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.
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. With a standard energy meter, you can record your energy usage manually by reading the dial. Standard meters are currently the most common energy meter in the UK, but if the government succeeds in its mission to modernise, many of our standard meters will soon be replaced by smart meters. The big difference between them is that smart meters will send details of your usage directly to your supplier.
The government was aiming to have one of these digital meters in 85% of UK households by 2024, but the coronavirus pandemic has dampened progress. By 2021, 44% of homes in the UK had smart or advanced meters installed and the government will be pushing hard to catch up to their target, as it’s a key part of its mission to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
Smart meters 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. A report published in 2019 found that 80% of people with a smart meter have a better idea of their energy costs, and seven in 10 believe their energy bills are accurate.
For more details, take a look at our guide to smart 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.
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 records. 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.
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 when taking meter readings.
These energy meters have four or five 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, we have a detailed meter reading guide.
What does an energy meter measure?
Gas meters generally record the volume of gas consumed in cubic feet (ft3), but your supplier will normally convert this to kilowatt hours on your gas bill.
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 1kWh of electricity. The more watts in an appliance the less time it takes, a 2,000 watt appliance would take 30 mins to use 1kWh 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.
If you notice your meter is recording higher energy usage and you can’t figure out why, there’s a chance you might be a victim of energy theft.
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. Find out more in our guide to smart meters.
Are there any disadvantages to smart meters?
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.
Old smart meters used to be difficult to transfer between suppliers, so if you switched then you might need a new smart meter. But all smart meters now being installed should be able to be switched between power suppliers.
Compare and save
If all this talk of measuring your energy is making you think about how much you're paying, why not do a quick comparison to see if you can get a better deal? It's easy to do and you can be switched and enjoying your new rate in no time. Just compare energy tariffs today.
Frequently asked questions
My energy usage hasn’t changed. Why are my bills going up?
Your energy usage isn’t the only factor that controls the price you pay for gas and electricity. In 2021, a global shortage of gas led to soaring prices and the collapse of many small energy suppliers. Customers whose energy supplier has gone bust will be switched automatically to a new provider – likely to be one of the UK’s Big 6 – but tariffs for their new deal are likely to be higher, given the energy crisis.
Although there is an energy price cap imposed by Ofgem to stop all the increased fuel costs being passed on to customers, the cap was raised in October 2021 by £139 to £1,277 for those on default tariffs. So many of us are likely to see higher energy bills this winter. With rising energy prices across the country and cheaper deals hard to find, find out how you can reduce your bills with our energy saving tips.
Does the energy price cap increase affect pre-payment meters?
Yes, as well as the energy price cap increase for energy customers on default tariffs introduced in October 2021, a separate price cap rise was introduced for pre-payment customers. The pre-payment energy price cap rose from by £153 from £1,156 to £1,309.
Will smart meters become compulsory?
As it stands, no. The government has made it compulsory for all energy providers to offer smart meters to all homes and businesses by 2025 but the decision to get one in your own home is completely up to you. However, if your meter needs replacing or you are installing one for the first time it will most likely need to be a smart one. Read more in our guide to smart meter installation.