ARE smart meters the saviour of Britain’s creaking grid system or just another digital gimmick we could do without?
Smart gas and electricity meters are being offered to everyone by energy suppliers and 11 million of them have already been installed in homes and small businesses across the UK.
There are two kinds: SMETS1 and SMETS2 (this stands for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specification).
In November, Raw Deal advised readers not to get a smart meter fitted until the more advanced SMETS2s became more widely available.
The concern was that customers could encounter problems with the first wave of gadgets when switching suppliers.
Now the second-generation devices are being rolled out… so it is time for an update.
John MacNeil, Smart Energy GB’s head of policy and communications, is convinced people will see the benefits.
He said: “Our research shows that more than eight in ten people say they have a better idea of what they are spending on energy thanks to their smart meter.”
We receive a regular stream of correspondence about these new gizmos, so we put some of the most common questions and concerns raised to Smart Energy GB.
What is a smart meter?
Smart meters are the new generation of gas and electricity meters available from your energy supplier, free of charge.
They are replacing traditional analogue meters in homes across the UK, which haven’t really changed much since Victorian times.
Why do we need them?
They are seen as a crucial step towards the development of smarter energy grids, meaning a better ability to match our power requirements as a nation.
Why is a smart meter better than my old traditional meter?
Smart meters send automatic readings to your supplier, putting an end to estimated bills and manual meter readings. The accompanying in-home display will show you exactly how much energy you are using as you go along, and what it is costing you in pounds and pence.
They’re also a great tool to help you reduce energy waste and save money. You’ll also be able to compare your energy use over time, identify where you could make positive changes, and benefit from cheaper gas and electricity bills.
Will it cost me anything to have a smart meter fitted?
All energy suppliers will offer their customers a smart meter, so every household in Great Britain will be able to benefit from the new technology. They are fitted by energy suppliers and they come at no extra cost, so you won’t need to pay anything extra for the upgrade.
What will happen during installation?
You can contact your energy supplier to arrange an appointment at a time that suits you.
All smart meter installers follow the same code of practice and they will show their company ID when they arrive. Installations take about two hours. While they are there, they will show you how to use your smart meter and the smart meter display.
They will also be able to give you some energy-saving advice and will carry out safety checks.
I don’t let my family spend so much time in the shower now I can see what it costs
Elspeth Kerr, 45, a councillor, lives with her husband and two grown-up daughters in Drumchapel, Glasgow.
Here, she tells Raw Deal about her experiences with her new smart meter:
“We’ve always had prepayment meters – they’re really useful in managing energy costs. You don’t get any unexpected bills.
“However, we’ve always found reading them and topping them up to be a pain, so when we first heard about smart meters we were really keen to get one.
“Our gas meter is located outside on the ground.
“I would have to get down on my hands and knees to read it or to top the meter up. This was particularly difficult as I suffer from a frozen shoulder, which made it tricky to put the card into the meter.
“Our electricity meter is buried in a cupboard under mountains of things, with tables, chairs and an ironing board stored in front of it. Topping it up meant having to move everything out of the way, and then putting it all back again – not what you need when you’re working full-time and often in a hurry.
“Now I can easily see how much energy we’re using in pounds and pence on the in-home display, which sits next to the sofa, and I can also top up the credit online.
“The display has encouraged my daughters to be more conscious of the energy we use.
“They know that they can’t put the heating on if the temperature is 22 degrees or above and I’ve shortened the length of their showers after seeing how much energy they use.
“When we had our old meters, I was always forgetting to take the key or card to the shop to get them topped up, and we often ran out of credit at inconvenient times – once I was making a pair of curtains on my sewing machine and the electricity ran out.
“I really needed to get them finished that night and having to go to the shop to top up wasted precious time.
“Now, our smart meter warns us when we are close to running out of credit, and I can see at a glance how much we have left.
“Being more conscious of our energy use has reduced the money we spend on electricity a month from £80 to £60.”
Debunking the myths
Myth: Smart meters are compulsory.
Fact: Smart meters are not compulsory. It’s entirely your choice. The Government requires energy suppliers to offer smart meters to all homes, but whether you accept them is completely up to you.
Myth: They are vulnerable to hacking.
Fact: Smart metering has been specifically designed to stop hacking happening. The system is secure and has been designed with top cyber-security experts, including the Government’s security organisation, GCHQ.
Your name, address, bank account or any other financial details are not stored on your smart meter. The only information kept on it is your gas and electricity usage and what tariff you have chosen.
Myth: They pose a risk to health.
Fact: Smart meters are one of the safest pieces of technology in your home. They have undergone rigorous safety testing.
Like mobile phones, TVs and microwaves, smart meters emit very low radio frequency emissions – one million times lower than international health guideline levels and much lower than from other everyday devices in the home.
Myth: Your bills will increase.
Fact: There is no additional cost to the consumer. The national investment in the roll-out is spread across everyone’s bills. Furthermore, the roll-out will save £1.50 for every £1 invested, so your bills will come down.
Myth: You can’t switch suppliers.
Fact: If you have a smart meter you can switch suppliers in exactly the same way as anyone else can. Many people find they can switch suppliers seamlessly, while others may find they have to start sending meter readings again.
This is a temporary loss of smart functionality – the first generation of smart meters will be upgraded over the air as the roll-out progresses.
In the future, smart meters will make it quick and easy to shop around and change your gas and electricity suppliers if you find a better deal. They’re paving the way to a world in which we can click to switch supplier in 24 hours – without smart meters and the data they provide on energy use, that just would not be a reality.