If you live in Britain and haven’t already got a smart meter, you’re missing out. There are more than 20 million of the little boxes installed in homes around the country, giving people power over their power.
In short, they monitor how much gas and electricity your home uses.
Both you and your energy supplier can access the data which means doing away with the hassle of having to supply meter readings.
It also does away with the pain of estimated usage, which can lead to overpaying or underpaying. The latter can leave people with a massive bill when their supplier catches up with correct meter readings and demands payment. Meanwhile overpayments can mean having to chase your supplier for the cash they owe you.
What is a smart meter?
They’re similar to traditional meters that measure how much gas and electricity is used in a property. The crucial difference is that they show the information to you and send it to your energy supplier.
There’s a display on the meter that reveals how much energy you are using in real time, and also how much it's costing. It means you can see at-a-glance how your bills mount up, even when you’re away from your home if you download an app from your energy supplier.
But it also allows you to find out which appliances, for instance, eat up the most energy, by monitoring the display while they’re plugged in.
You should usually be able to get an app which contains all the information which means you can see how much energy your home is eating up even while you’re out or even elsewhere in the world.
How do smart meters work?
Smart meters use wireless technology to send information about your home’s energy use information to suppliers as well as to an app on your phone. If you want the technical details, your supplier will be able to tell you and it will depend on where you are in the country and what type of property you have.
In simple terms your smart meter is wirelessly connected to a network in the same way that your mobile phone is.
The data is transmitted to energy suppliers via a national infrastructure run by the Data Communications Company, which has signed up to privacy rules.
Being connected to the data that a smart meter records means your supplier no longer needs you to read the meter and send the latest updates so they can calculate your bill. They can simply do all that themselves and ensure the bill accurately reflects your usage of gas or electricity.
However, depending on your type of property – for instance if you have thicker walls – you may need a different type of meter, but that’s something to discuss with your supplier and should be easy to sort out.
How much do they cost to install?
Having a smart meter installed in your home won’t cost you a penny. The energy companies have paid for the roll-out for the meters and have taken the cost into account when working out their charges for gas and electricity.
If you use a smart meter cleverly to work out what gadgets cost a lot of money to use, or what time of day your home is using a lot of energy, you can actually take action to help cut costs.
In effect having a smart meter in your home can lead to lower bills if you act on the information by turning off energy drainers while they’re not being used. Estimates from the government suggest that savings could end up being as much as £250 a year on a dual fuel bill.
There’s also the fact that having a smart meter should make it easier to switch suppliers or to a cheaper tariff and that can be the best way to cut your home energy costs.
What if I rent my home?
If you rent and pay the energy bills direct to a supplier you can get a smart meter installed. However it’s probably a good idea to talk to your landlord before you make any move as there may be restrictions included in your tenancy agreement.
If your landlord pays the energy bills, it will be up to them to decide to get a smart meter installed.
If you have a pre-payment meter you can still have a smart meter installed as they can work in either pre-payment or credit mode.
It will give you an instant view of how much money you have left on your account and topping up can be easily done on an app or through your supplier’s website once you have a smart meter.
Cutting down on bills
Focusing on gas and electricity costs means cutting down on bills. Switching to a different supplier or to changing tariffs with your current supplier could save you hundreds of pounds a year.