Smart meters may have their critics but if you care about climate change and want to do less life admin, they’re really quite good.
It’s not just removing the need for meter readings and ensuring you pay the right amount that smart meters deal with, they can also help everyone to save money by using energy in a smarter way while reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
So, what can a smart meter do for you? We reveal five ways they help.
Smart meters record how much gas and electricity you use in your home
1. Make your life easier
Smart meters track how much energy you use in your home, in much the same way as traditional analogue meters do.
The difference is that with an analogue meter, you have to traipse down to the basement, go outside, or stick your head in a cobwebbed cupboard to read your meter and then submit those readings to your supplier.
It’s a faff. Smart meters on the other hand, automatically transmit the amount of energy you use back to your supplier, which uses the data to accurately calculate your bills.
This makes them a much more reliable and low-hassle way of paying for energy.
You have control over how often the meter reports usage back to your supplier and all your data is encrypted, aggregated and anonymised.
2. Get accurate bills
It’s possible to set your meter to transmit usage readings as often as every half hour, but you can also set longer timeframes. If you don’t specify what your preference is, suppliers will take a reading remotely once a day.
Smart meters mean you never pay more than you owe and you never owe more than you’ve paid
This is good because it means you’re not paying for energy you don’t use and you’re also not underpaying for energy you do use.
When you switch to a new tariff, traditionally your provider would likely give you a monthly estimate for the amount of energy you’ll use and your bills would reflect that. They’ll adjust that amount each time you give them a meter reading.
If you’re not providing regular meter readings you can end up paying far more than you owe, leading to you having a surplus of credit with your supplier – your money held by them when you might need it.
On the flipside, if you use more than predicted and don’t provide a meter reading until the end of the year, you could face a bigger problem in the form of a big bill that you need to find the money to pay at short notice.
Smart meters eliminate that problem, ensuring you never pay more than you owe and you never owe more than you’ve paid.
Over the next 30 years, Britain will rely more and more on renewable energy sources
3. Clever tariffs can help you save money
At the moment, the UK sources its energy from fossil-fuelled power stations, nuclear power stations and renewable energy such as wind farms, solar farms and tidal stations.
When renewable production is high, that energy is used immediately. When it’s low – on a cloudy, still day for example – we have to fall back on nuclear, oil and gas.
Smart meters help energy networks to monitor supply and demand and, crucially, provide them with the data they need to work out how individuals can use the energy we produce most efficiently.
This means that you can better use energy when it is abundant and cheaper and save money by doing so.
For example, smart meters could automatically alert smart switches connected to electric car chargers to turn on when energy is cheap, green and in high supply.
Climate change is now internationally recognised as a serious threat to the environment and, ultimately, humanity
If every household in Great Britain had a smart meter, it would mean that we waste less energy from the point of generation to the point of use – an estimated £650million.
It would also mean we could rely less on polluting carbon-fuelled power stations – and potentially rely less on importing oil and gas from abroad.
And those savings can be passed directly onto individuals with agile tariffs. There are several energy suppliers that already offer ‘dynamic pricing’ as a way to save money and be greener.
How have smart meters changed?
Customers who request a smart meter from their energy supplier will receive a second generation meter known as SMETS2, which operates using a bespoke network for communicating back to energy suppliers.
The first generation smart meters known as SMETS1, began to be installed in homes in 2013 using the mobile telephone network to transmit data back to energy suppliers. This meant that in areas with poor signal some customers had to rely on submitting meter readings manually as they had done with an analogue meter.
In addition, after switching to a new energy supplier some SMETS1 meters temporarily continued to function in the same way analogue meters do, without automatic meter readings.
However, the dedicated secure national communications network operated by the Smart DCC, is helping all smart meters to deliver benefits to customers.
It will cover 99.25 per cent of Britain and will mean that people in areas with poor mobile signal can access all the functionality the new technology can offer.
4. Help the planet and the shift away from fossil fuels
Climate change is now internationally recognised as a serious threat to the environment and, ultimately, humanity.
The Government has committed to meeting a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, with some British cities promising they’ll deliver sooner than that.
Smart meters are fundamental to delivering on it, as home energy usage accounts for a large amount of carbon emissions. They enable energy firms and customers to better monitor energy usage and use power in a smarter and greener way.
The reality is, without smart meters it will be harder and more expensive to meet the UK’s legal obligation to cut carbon emissions.
They’re intrinsic in the fight to slow down climate change – something that the global flooding, heatwaves, raging wildfires and coastal erosion that we increasingly read about over our breakfast cereal has made very real for the majority of people.
5. Help cut the cost of charging an EV
Electric vehicles are the future, whether petrolheads like it or not. Under Theresa May’s premiership, the UK government became the first in the world to enshrine into law a binding commitment to deliver net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Since then, the Government has said the UK will end the sale of new conventional purely diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040, as part of its commitment to reaching that target.
It means that the majority of us will need to consider charging either pure electric or hybrid cars at home – and factor in the cost of that.
The government has said the UK will end the sale of new conventional diesel and petrol cars and vans by 2040
Part of the beauty of smart meters is the basic, but important data they provide to energy networks and providers, which can use it to work out when there is surplus energy available and where it could be used most efficiently.
Energy prices change throughout the day, depending on supply and demand, so knowing when there is less demand means providers can pass on lower costs to customers.
Several energy providers offer smart or ‘agile’ tariffs that tell you when to charge your car for the cheapest price
There are several energy providers that offer smart or ‘agile’ tariffs that tell you when to charge your car for the cheapest price.
Without a smart meter, that kind of pricing just isn’t possible.
Worse, if Great Britain doesn’t switch to smart meters but does rely increasingly on electric vehicles, then our electricity system will struggle to cope.
Research by Delta EE predicts that with an additional 2.5 million electric vehicles in 2030, peak electricity demand would increase by almost 17 GW.
With fixed period smart charging, Delta EE predicts the peak would only increase by 4.5 GW19.
With dynamic tariffs that vary the cost of electricity to best match demand to supply, the large demand from EVs could be moved to the time of day that renewable electricity generation is most available.
Delta EE reckons that these dynamic ‘time of use’ tariffs will be widespread for EV owners, with smart meters passing signals from the electricity network to in-home chargers to automate when to charge.
It is already possible for EV owners to control when their cars start to charge, but dynamic time of use tariffs give drivers the cost savings to incentivise this behaviour, rather than the same price being charged for the electricity at any time.
>> Contact your supplier for more information on getting a smart meter.
Smart Energy GB is a government-backed organisation tasked with informing Great Britain about the benefits of the smart meter rollout. Learn more: smartenergygb.org
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.