Gas and electric meters explained

Find out what you need to know about the different types of energy meters, and how to read them.

Find out what you need to know about the different types of energy meters, and how to read them.

Sofia Hutson
From the Energy team
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Posted 25 DECEMBER 2019

Energy meters – what you need to know

All energy meters measure the amount of gas or electricity your household is using and help make sure you get accurate bills. The big difference between them is that smart meters will send details of your usage directly to your supplier.

Smart meters

The government aims to have one of these digital meters in 85% of UK households by 2024. They measure how much electricity and gas you're using in real-time and send the information to your supplier, so you  never have to submit a meter reading manually. There’s even a  digital display  in the house to keep you posted on how much energy you're using at any given time. 

Suppliers have to foot the bill to install these meters and there are rules to protect consumers. So far, 80% of people with a smart meter have a better idea of their energy costs, and 7 in 10 believe their energy bills are accurate. 

For more details, take a look at our guide to smart meters.

Standard meters

This  type of  meter  just measures your  usage. A meter reader from your supplier will come to check the reading, or you may be asked to submit your own readings as often as once a month. You can usually  give the reading by phone, online or send a card back that has been posted through your letterbox.  If you don't supply a reading you will be sent an estimated bill based on past usage, which could mean that you are getting an inaccurate bill.  Most suppliers will generate an updated bill automatically based on your reading and add it to your online account or send you a paper bill, but you may have to ask for a new bill in some cases – so it's worth checking what happens. 

Meters for special tariffs 

Whether you have a smart or standard meter, you could have a pre-payment, Economy 7 or Economy 10 meter.   

Pre-payment meters

If you have this kind of gas and electric meter, you pay for your energy in advance using coins, cards, keys or tokens. You’ll get to know your meter well, as you need to keep an eye on your remaining balance to make sure you don’t run out of energy. If you do, you’ll have to go to the nearest top-up location or top-up online.

Suppliers sometimes offer pre-payment meters to customers with bad credit. Some landlords prefer these over credit meters because it makes it much simpler to settle up expenses when tenants move out.

What is an Economy 7 meter?  

Economy 7 meters, known as White Meters in Scotland, provide you with different rates during the day and night. If you’re on this type of tariff, you’ll have a meter which will display your two separate rates. The seven refers to the hours per day which are classed as off-peak. Energy used outside of those seven hours is charged at a more expensive rate. 

What is an Economy 10 meter?

Economy 10 meters work in the same way as Economy 7, except that you have a 10-hour off-peak rate. These two separate rates work in the same way, with one for day use and the other for night-time use. Any electricity used outside of these designated hours will be charged at a higher rate.

How to read your meter 

With your Economy 7 or 10 meter featuring two different rates, it’s important you know how to read your meter. The way you conduct a meter reading varies, depending on the type of meter you have installed. You will see either a row of numbers, or a series of dials.  
Your meter will show two readings: 

  • The night time/cheap rate, which is usually displayed at the top 
  • The daytime/peak rate, which is usually displayed at the bottom 

Some meters however, do not display the readings for both rates together. Instead, they have a single display, and a button that will allow you to change which rate is shown. 

Digital meter

These are used to measure gas and electricity use and have digital or electronic displays. Like a standard meter, they’re simple to read – just read from left to right. If there’s a red number at the end, ignore it. 

Dial meters

These energy meters have 4 or 5 dials, with each one going from 0 to 9. There’s a bit of an art to reading them, but to put it simply:

  • You go from left to right, ignoring any dials that are red or don’t have a pointer.
  • If the pointer is between any numbers between 0 and 8, note down the lower one.
  • If it’s between 0 and 9, write down 9.

It you’re having trouble, Citizens Advice has a detailed meter reading guide.

What does an energy meter measure? 

Gas meters generally record the volume of gas consumed in cubic feet (ft3). 

Electricity meters measure kilowatt hours (kWh) and you may see these marked on your meter. A kilowatt hour is a unit of measurement that is the amount of energy you would use if you kept a 1,000 watt appliance running for an hour.  So, if you were using a 100 watt lightbulb it would take 10 hours to burn up 1 kWh of electricity. The more watts in an appliance the less time it takes, a 2,000 watt appliance would take 30 mins to use 1 kWh of energy. 

Appliances can have labels or manuals that show their wattage – but generally electric showers, immersion heaters, room heaters and tumble driers are quite heavy users of power.   

Is the meter always right?

If you think your meter isn’t accurately recording your energy use, you can always get it checked by your supplier. They may charge for this to be done.

Can an energy monitor help?

Another way to check your electricity usage is get an energy monitor. These useful devices attach to your power supply and have a wireless display to show you how much energy you’re consuming.

You can see which appliances are using the most electricity by switching them on one by one. And if you enter your tariff, the monitor will tell you how much it's costing too.

Are smart meters worth having? 

If used properly, a smart meter can help you save money on your energy bill. However, simply getting one isn’t going to see your bill drop in price. It can get you access to some cheaper tariffs, but the idea is that you use the ability to track your energy use to find ways of becoming more energy efficient. 
They also provide direct and accurate readings to your supplier, meaning you no longer need to. Regular accurate readings can ensure that you aren’t paying for more than you’re using, or underpaying and face a potential bill shock in the future. 

Are there any disadvantages to smart meters? 

As mentioned above, having a smart meter alone won’t save you money. You need to turn it into an advantage yourself. 
Unfortunately, not all suppliers support smart meters, which can make switching to a non-smart supplier more complicated. If you do this, you’ll have to go back to supplying manual readings yourself, with your supplier also using estimates to set your bill. 

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