What is a Smart Meter and What do they do Differently?

What is a Smart Electricity Meter or Smart Gas Meter?

pylonA Smart Meter is a more advanced replacement for the traditional energy meter in your home or business, whether that be the newer (electronic) digital units with an LCD display or the old-style (electromechanical) models with the readings shown on a series of revolving dials.

In practical terms, the new meters will replace your existing meter and also link securely to a device called an In-Home Display, or IHD for short. The IHD is situated in your home or business so that you can view and monitor the information collected by the meter and your energy usage.

Some energy companies also refer to the IHD as an SED (Smart Energy Display) or SEM (Smart Energy Monitor).

Smart meters have two-way communication capabilities and can send and receive data to and from the energy supplier. Typical uses of this would be to send energy consumption data automatically – eliminating the need for meter readings to be collected and submitted – and also to allow your meter to receive updated tariff information to enable it to show not only the units consumed, but the actual cost to you in financial terms. Full instructions on how to use the IHD will be provided either before or at the time of installation.

Other possibilities for smart meters include the ability to communicate securely with suitably-equipped devices in your home. This would allow for smart devices to switch on automatically when tariffs are lowest – such as during the early hours of the morning – to take advantage of cheaper energy. This is something that can and will only be done with your consent.

What’s the point of Smart Metering?

Smart metering will allow for a better and more predictable energy strategy in the UK and in doing so reduce costs for both consumers and energy suppliers while maintaining stability and security of supply. Enabling consumers to view near real-time energy usage information should prove invaluable in reducing energy usage and thereby saving money.

Rolling out Smart Metering to UK homes and businesses

In the UK, the government committed to an £11.3 billion scheme rolling out around 50 million smart meters to 30 million homes and businesses over a 7 year period.

I use both Gas and Electricity – does that mean 2 IHDs in my home?

Not necessarily. It just means 2 Smart Meters which will replace your existing 2 conventional meters but it doesn’t mean 2 independent IHDs. If you get your gas and electricity from the same provider as most people do (often referred to as a dual-fuel account) then most suppliers will supply an IHU that can display information from both Smart Meters.

Will I save money with a Smart Meter?

It is estimated that most households will save an average of £23 per year with a Smart Meter installed. By utilising the information provided by the IHD, many people will find their savings considerably higher than this. In future, your provider may be able to give you specific energy efficiency information on how to save money in your home based on the usage information collected from the meter. Rather than being general advice aimed at all consumers as at present, the information would be specific to your personal circumstances and usage patterns and therefore far more likely to help you reduce your energy costs.

When will I get my Smart Meter(s)?

The implementation of smart meters is to begin in 2014 and energy suppliers are required to have completed the rollout by 2019. The rollout schedule will vary from one energy company to the next as they are responsible for their own customers’ metering. If you would like more information on when you are likely to have a smart meter installed in your home or business then your energy supplier should be able to give you more information on their implementation plans.

If your existing meter is due for routine periodic replacement, you may have a Smart Meter installed earlier than planned to coincide with that – rather than the provider having to replace the meter with a digital meter only to then have to change it again for a Smart Meter shortly afterwards. Where possible, suppliers will try to do this to reduce their own costs as well as the inconvenience to consumers.

Some providers may begin rolling the new meters out earlier than others and if you are keen to take advantage of the new units but your current supplier is unable or unwilling to expedite your request then you may need to change energy supplier in order to do this. Switching energy suppliers is a very easy process these days – as the gas and electricity all flows through the same infrastructure, the change is essentially administrative only and the equipment in your home or business will not normally be affected in any way – although it may trigger the arrival of a meter reader by either the existing or new supplier to verify the exact meter readings on a given date.

Will I be charged for having a Smart Meter installed?

Wellll….. yes and no… There are no up-front costs for having Smart Meters supplied and fitted as such. It is the responsibility of the energy suppliers to provide and install energy meters and there is no up-front cost for the provision and installation of the meters. Realistically, the energy companies will ultimately have to recover their costs through consumer bills over time.

If I have a Smart Meter installed, will I still be able to change supplier?

Yes. If anything, the implementation of Smart Meters should actually make this process even easier.

Are Smart Meters secure? Can anyone access my data?

Smart Meters are designed to communicate securely with your energy supplier and any other enabled devices using bespoke, encrypted networking. The transmission of any information is therefore secure and cannot be accessed by a third party.

Some people are concerned that Smart Metering could allow energy companies to effectively monitor your living patterns and what you are doing in your own home, but the benefits of data collection will far outweigh the privacy concerns for most people. Based on your usage patterns your provider would be able to provide you with information specific to you on how you can reduce your usage or your bills.

Once the option to communicate with correctly-enabled smart devices in your home is in place they may even be able to identify faulty equipment and notify you before you even realise that anything is wrong. There is a lot of scope for Smart Metering to open up some very interesting energy-saving technology in the future.

Another benefit of having this data collected and stored is that most providers will give you online access to reporting tools allowing you to track your historic energy usage and even allow you to forecast and adjust your budget for seasonal changes in energy usage, such as a greater lighting and heating requirement in winter and far less so in summer.

Additionally, new regulations governing the protection of collected data are being put into place to define how it can be stored and used and to protect it. Under the new regulations, suppliers cannot collect real-time data and can only retrieve energy usage information from your meter once per day unless you have provided your consent for more regular collection.