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What are the Pros and Cons of Smart Meters?

The switch over to smart meters is well underway – according to latest government figures, smart or advanced meters make up 52% of all meters in the UK, with 25.6 million working in smart mode. Smart meters can help you reduce your energy use, but are there any downsides?

The switch over to smart meters is well underway – according to latest government figures, smart or advanced meters make up 52% of all meters in the UK, with 25.6 million working in smart mode. Smart meters can help you reduce your energy use, but are there any downsides?

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
Last Updated
7 OCTOBER 2022
6 min read
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What is a smart meter?

A smart meter is a device installed to automatically track your gas and electricity usage. It’s connected to an in-home display that shows you how much you’re using and how much it’s costing you. Best of all, a smart meter sends your meter readings to your energy supplier automatically, so there’s no need for you to do it manually.

Why should I get a smart meter?

The main benefit of getting a smart meter is that you’ll no longer need to take manual readings for your gas and electricity. With a smart meter, all that data is sent to your supplier automatically, providing them with accurate readings, so you can say goodbye to estimated bills.

On top of that, a smart meter with its in-home display is a good way for you to track your energy usage. With this, you’ll be able to make changes to your energy usage to help protect the environment and save you a few quid.

Of course, just having a smart meter won’t necessarily save you money automatically, but it’s a useful tool to help you do so, and it takes some of the household admin off your hands.

If you’re not sure a smart meter is right for you, it’s best to weigh up the pros and cons to give you a better understanding of how they work.

Did you know?

According to the Data and Communications Company (DCC) - the company responsible for running the national smart meter network - smart meters can help save British homes over 600,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.

Smart meter pros

With energy bills so high at the moment, it’s more important than ever to try to cut costs where we can. A smart meter can help you take control. By better managing your daily energy consumption, you could reduce your carbon footprint and save money on your energy bills. 
 
Advantages of a smart meter:

No more meter readings

A smart meter will take a reading from your meter and automatically send it to your energy supplier. That means no more scrabbling around in a cupboard with a torch as you try to see the numbers.

It also means your energy supplier won’t need to pay someone to come out and read your meter. What they save in costs could be passed on to you, the customer.

Accurate energy bills

A smart meter will send an accurate reading of your exact energy use to the energy supplier either half-hourly, daily or monthly, it’s your choice. This does away with estimated bills – so you’ll only be charged for what you use.

With traditional non-smart meters, if you forget to submit a reading, your energy supplier will estimate your use based on past bills. Estimates can be notoriously inaccurate. With a smart meter you’ll avoid estimates and the shock of a nasty final bill when your tariff comes to an end.

Easily track what you use and spend

Smart meters come with a handy In-Home Display (IHD) unit that you can put anywhere, such as a kitchen wall. The display shows you how much energy you’re using in real time.

You can also see exactly how much energy is being used by a particular appliance – for example, each time you put the kettle on. This helps you monitor your energy use. It also helps you work out which appliances are the worst energy guzzlers and which ones are the most energy efficient.

Easy to understand

The IHD shows your energy usage in both kWh (kilowatt hours) and pounds and pence, so you can clearly see what you’re using and spending.

Encourages better energy habits

If you can see how much energy you’re using, you’re more likely to change bad habits and hopefully reduce what you use. This is great for budgeting. Better energy habits could mean cheaper energy bills in the long run.

Could help reduce your carbon footprint

Being more aware of how much energy you use could steer you towards taking energy-saving steps, helping to cut down on unnecessary usage and your home’s CO2 emissions.

Access to cheaper tariffs

To encourage more people to switch to smart meters, many energy suppliers are offering exclusive discounts and cheaper tariffs for homes and businesses with smart meters.

It’s easier to switch suppliers

As you won’t need to take a final reading, switching suppliers will be easier.

Smart meter cons

There’s no doubting the benefits of a smart meter, especially when it comes to monitoring your energy consumption. But installing a smart meter doesn’t automatically mean lower energy bills, and there are a few potential issues you should be aware of. 

Disadvantages of a smart meter:

Uses a mobile signal

First generation smart meters (SMETS1) use a mobile network signal to send data. While a smart meter doesn’t use a traditional WiFi or internet connection, if you live in an area where the mobile signal is patchy, it will affect your smart meter too. However, a new dedicated wireless smart meter network is currently being set up by the Data Communications Company (DCC) to resolve this problem. According to the DCC, smart meter communications coverage is currently available to over 99% of UK households.

There’s no guarantee you’ll save money

A smart meter will only help you save money if you use it to monitor your energy use and make a positive decision to cut back.

Excessive monitoring

Obsessively checking the display to see how much you’re spending could lead to family friction. It’s impossible to cut out your energy use completely, and it could cause problems if you get upset every time someone switches on a light or boils the kettle.

Your meter might not stay smart if you switch suppliers

If you have a first-generation (SMETS1) smart meter, it might temporarily lose its ‘smart’ functionality when you switch suppliers. This means you might have to go back to manually reading your meter. However, SMETS1 meters are no longer being installed, and second generation SMETS2s should overcome this problem. Plans are also underway to remotely upgrade existing SMETS1 meters so that they’re compatible with all energy suppliers and can regain their smart functionality after switching.

Frequently asked questions

Are smart meters free?

Yes, smart meters are installed for free as part of a government scheme. However, the cost of their installation is essentially absorbed into everybody’s energy bill as part of a smart meter tariff.

What is SMETS1 and SMETS2?

SMETS stands for ‘smart metering equipment technical specification’. The first generation of smart meters are SMETS1. The second generation are SMETS2.

Are smart meters compulsory?

Smart meters aren’t compulsory, but the government roll-out means that every home in Britain will be offered a smart meter by the end of 2025. Whether you’re a homeowner, tenant or have a prepaid meter, your energy supplier is responsible for providing and installing a smart meter for you at no extra charge. If you’d rather not have one, don’t worry, you’re under no obligation to have one installed.

How do smart meters work?

Smart meters automatically track your energy usage and send your meter readings to your energy supplier via a dedicated network just for smart meters. With a smart meter, you can wave goodbye to manual meter readings.

Are smart meters secure?

Smart meters have their own secure, wireless network and don’t use the internet. The system has been specifically designed to prevent hacking. There are also strict laws in place that prohibit energy suppliers from passing on information to third parties without the customer’s permission. Personal details like your name and address aren’t stored on your smart meter, and the information collected is only used by your energy supplier to calculate an accurate bill. So, smart meters are no more of a threat to your privacy than other smart devices.

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