Smart Meters – is now the right time?

It is widely recognised that most households pay too much for their domestic energy. Consumer organisations believe one solution to this is to regularly switch supplier.

The energy industry and the Government believe an alternative solution is to install a smart meter. But are smart meters all they are cracked up to be?

What is a ‘smart meter’?

Smart meters are a new type of meter for gas and electricity which are currently planned to be offered to all British households by 2020. Smart meters send meter readings directly to your energy supplier and will enable a range of new services, like displays that show you exactly how much energy you’re using, the cost of that energy and tailored tariff and energy efficiency advice. Smart meters should mean that manual meter readings, estimated and back bills will become a thing of the past.

Getting a smart meter installed

You won’t have to pay up front to have a smart meter installed as smart meters will be paid for through everyone’s energy bills. But, a smart meter won’t automatically save you money; you’ll have to be proactive to reduce your energy costs. The best way to do this will be to use the digital ‘in-home’ display that you’ll be offered with a smart meter to keep track of how much energy you’re using. You can then try to reduce it.

Suppliers are rolling out smart meters at different rates

This means not all suppliers may be ready to install smart meters yet. For some consumers, technical solutions may need to be developed before a smart meter can be installed. However, the plan is that almost all homes will be able to have a smart meter by the end of the rollout. You can contact your supplier to see whether they’ll install one in your home early, but they don’t have to. You might want to shop around and see if any other suppliers can offer you one. If they do, you’ll need to switch supplier.

Smart meters are optional

While energy suppliers are obliged to offer smart meters to everyone, you don’t have to accept one if you don’t want one. If your supplier tells you that you must have one installed, contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline. Take note that if you refuse one, you might find it hard to access all tariffs. This is because in future the cheaper tariffs offered by suppliers might only be available to customers with smart meters. In the future, smart meters will be the only option available to replace old meters. However, you’ll still be able to request that your supplier not make use of the smart meter functionality, meaning that it will act like a standard meter.

You may lose some ‘smart services’ if you switch suppliers

Once you have a smart meter, you’ll still be able to switch energy supplier as before. Suppliers can’t refuse to supply you with energy because you have a smart meter but you might not be able to use your smart meter’s functionality with your new supplier. You can switch but might have to have your smart meter in standard meter mode. Check if your new supplier will take automatic meter readings or if you’ll need to submit them. Newer smart meters, called SMETS2 meters, have now started being installed which should avoid this issue.

For more information talk to your energy supplier or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk/energy or https://www.smartenergygb.org/en. Smart meters are here to stay. You need to know how you can make them work for you.

Our thanks to Coventry Citizens Advice (CCA) for submitting this article to us. For more information, contact your local CA offices or visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk.