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Everything you need to know about smart meters

Everything you need to know about smart meters

Smart meters communicate directly with your energy supplier over a wireless network, while an in-home display shows your energy use and spend in real-time.

  • Smart meters are free to have installed and provide up-to-date info about your energy usage
  • Anyone can have a smart meter installed — this includes all types of property, prepayment customers, and renters
  • Being informed about your energy usage can help you use less energy, save money, and reduce your carbon emissions

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are a new type of energy meter currently being installed in homes across the UK.

The government wants everyone to have a smart meter, and replace old-style standard and prepayment meters.

Smart meters are ‘smart’ because they communicate directly with your energy supplier. You won’t need to read your energy meter anymore — the smart meter will send your readings directly to your energy supplier.

How do smart meters work?

When a smart meter is installed in your home you’ll get:

  • a smart meter for gas replacing your old gas meter
  • a smart meter for electricity replacing your old electricity meter
  • an in-home display (IHD) unit showing you how much energy you are using, and how much it’s costing you.

These all communicate with each other, and your energy supplier, wirelessly over the Data Communications Company (DCC).

Your energy usage is automatically sent to your energy supplier at least once a month, but communicated to your IHD unit in near real-time. So, after you boil the kettle, the amount of energy used should appear on your IHD.

What is the DCC?

DCC stands for Data Communications Company.

The DCC is a new, secure, national communication network that smart meters connect to in order to automatically and wirelessly send your energy usage data to your energy supplier.

DCC is operated by Capita Plc under a licence from the energy regulator Ofgem.

What’s the difference between smart meters and older meters?

Old-style meters need to be read on a regular basis with the readings submitted to the energy company. You could read the meter yourself or wait for a visit from a meter reader from your energy company.

If your meter isn’t read regularly, you’ll receive estimated bills, not accurate ones. This means you might be paying too much or too little for your energy.

Having a smart meter installed means there’s no need to read your meter anymore.

The smart meter will record how much energy you use and transmit this data to your energy company, which will send you an accurate bill.

Why should I get a smart meter?

There are lots benefits to having a smart meter. Such as:

  • there’s no need for manual meter readings
  • you’ll receive accurate bills
  • accurate bills mean you won’t get into arrears with your energy company and have to pay a lump sum
  • if you have a prepayment meter, the smart meter will show you how much credit you have
  • the smart meter’s IHD unit shows how much energy you are using at any point in time and the cost
  • you can check if you’re wasting energy and reduce the amount you use

How much do smart meters cost to install?

It’s free to get a smart meter installed as part of the government's rollout plans. Your energy company redeems the cost through energy bills.

Why are smart meters being rolled out?

The government wants to see smart meters installed in every home in England, Wales and Scotland.

This is because smart meters give consumers more accurate info about how much energy they use.

You can use this info to make informed decisions about your energy use. For example, you may notice that leaving your TV on standby uses a certain amount of energy and that you can reduce your energy use by turning off your TV.

Using less energy will reduce:

  • your energy bill
  • carbon emissions

What’s the difference between a SMETS1 or SMETS2 meter?

SMETS stands for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications.

The first generation of smart meters are known as SMETS1. Energy suppliers have been installing these since 2013. They communicate with your energy supplier using the 3G network.

The second generation of smart meters are known as SMETS2. Energy suppliers have been installing these since 2018. SMETS2 meters communicate with energy suppliers using the DCC.

How do I know if I have SMETS1 or SMETS2?

If your meter was installed before 2018, it’s likely to be a SMETS1 meter.

But some suppliers were still installing SMETS1 meters after 2018.

The best way to find out which type of smart meter you have is to contact the supplier that installed it.

If I switch energy suppliers will my smart meter go "dumb"?

The problem with most SMETS1 meters is that if you change energy supplier, these meters can stop working, either temporarily or permanently. This is known as going “dumb”.

If your smart meter goes dumb you'll have to go back to reading your meter and submitting the figures to your supplier.

However, the IHD will still work and show information on your consumption, but not your new supplier’s costs.

A remote upgrade is planned to make all SMETS1 meters work with all suppliers and the DCC. This should happen before summer 2021 and will solve the issue of SMETS1 meters going dumb.

If you have a SMETS2 meter and switch suppliers, it won’t go dumb. Your new supplier will receive accurate data about your usage and meter readings. Your IHD will show both your usage and your new supplier's costs.

Can I get a smart meter?

Am I eligible for a smart meter?

Yes, all households and small businesses are eligible for smart meters.

But, when you will get one depends on your energy supplier and its timescales for installing meters.

Energy suppliers were supposed to try and offer smart meters to all homes and small businesses by the end of 2020. But this deadline has been pushed back to 30 June 2025 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

How do I get a smart meter?

The smart meter rollout is underway and is managed by Smart Energy GB.

The best way to find out when you’ll be able to get a smart meter is to contact your energy supplier.

You can enter your supplier on the search facility on Smart Energy GB’s website and it will direct you to the section on your supplier’s website where you can either book an appointment for smart meter installation, or find out what’s happening with your supplier.

Energy suppliers are generally rolling out smart meters area-by-area, so when you can have one installed is a bit of a lottery. You’ll need to be at home for it to be installed.

Do I have to have a smart meter?

No, you don't have to have a smart meter installed if you don’t want one.

But, refusing a smart meter may limit the energy tariffs you have access to. Some of the cheapest tariffs need you to have a smart meter. So not having a smart meter could mean your energy bills are higher than necessary.

According to TotallyMoney research, switching away from a default tariff or prepayment meter to one of the cheapest deals on the market could save the average household over £300 a year.*

Despite the smart meter rollout, switching energy tariff remains the best way to save money on your energy bills.

Switching suppliers is quick and easy and your supply is not cut off during the changeover.

Can I get a smart meter if I'm a renter?

Yes, you can get a smart meter if you’re renting. The government’s aim is to have smart meters rolled out to every home in the UK and this includes homes that are rented.

As long as your name is on the energy bill, you can ask for a smart meter from your supplier without your landlord's permission.

Can I get a smart meter if I'm a prepayment customer?

Yes, you can get a smart meter if you are a prepayment customer. Prepayment is where you pay for energy in advance and top-up your account using a key or card.

However, it depends whether your supplier offers prepayment smart meters — and currently not all suppliers do.

If you’re a prepayment customer and get a smart meter installed there are several ways you could benefit:

  • easier top-ups (for example, on a phone app rather than going to a shop)
  • you’ll be able to check how much credit you’ve used
  • an alert through the IHD if your credit is running low

If you’re a prepayment customer, having a smart meter could also make it easier to switch to a credit meter as the process normally just requires a software update.

Being on a credit meter is better, as you’ll have access to the cheapest energy tariffs on the market.

If you’re switching from a prepayment meter to a credit meter the energy company will run a credit check on you to ensure that you’ll be able to keep up with the direct debit repayments.

Can I get a smart meter if I have different gas and electric suppliers?

Yes, because cach household will have one smart meter for electricity and another for gas (assuming you have a gas supply).

If you have both gas and electricity with the same supplier, they will probably install both meters at the same time. Both meters will connect to the same IHD unit which will display both your electricity and gas usage and costs.

If you have different gas and electricity suppliers, you will need to arrange two separate smart meters installations, one with each supplier. Each supplier will install a separate IHD.

If you have two different suppliers you’ll probably be better off switching both fuels to the same supplier — this is known as “duel fuel”.

Most providers offer duel fuel tariffs, which can work out better value than using two different companies. It will also keep things simple — you’ll get just one bill a month and only have to pay one supplier.

I'm on economy 7, can I get a smart meter?

Not all smart meters will work with Economy 7, so talk to your supplier to find out.

Economy 7 is a type of “time of use” tariff. This type of tariff is typically used by households with storage heaters, which draw electricity at night, then release heat in the day when needed.

Economy 7 tariffs give you cheaper rates for seven hours during the night, and more expensive rates during the day.

If you’re on Economy 7, you will need a smart meter that can juggle two tariffs. This will help you see how much energy you’re using under each part of your Economy 7 tariff.

I'm on economy 10, can I get a smart meter?

Not all smart meters will work with Economy 10, so contact your supplier to find out.

Economy 10 is also a type of “time of use” tariff.

Economy 10 tariffs give you cheaper rates for 10 hours during the night, and more expensive rates during the day.

If you’re on Economy 10, you will need a smart meter that can juggle two tariffs. This will help you see how much energy you’re using under each part of your Economy 10 tariff.

Can I switch suppliers if I'm on a smart meter?

If you have a smart meter, you can shop around and switch suppliers in the same way as you can with a traditional meter.

If you have a SMETS1 smart meter, it may temporarily go “dumb” after you switch. This means you’ll need to take manual meter readings and send them to your energy supplier so you get an accurate bill. If you don’t want to wait for the SMETS1 update to the DCC you should contact your supplier.

Your IHD will still show how much energy you’re using, but not your new supplier’s costs.

This doesn’t affect your ability to switch your energy supplier – so you can go ahead and change tariffs.

If you have a SMETS2 smart meter and switch suppliers, you shouldn’t have any issues. Your new supplier will receive accurate data about your usage and meter readings. Your in-home display will show both your usage and your new supplier's costs.

How often are my readings sent?

It’s up to you how often your smart meter readings are sent. You can normally choose to send readings to your supplier either:

  • once every 30 minutes
  • once a day
  • once a month

You can change how often the readings are sent by logging into your online energy account, or contacting your supplier.

Can my energy supply be cut off remotely if I have a smart meter?

Technically, having a smart meter installed means your supplier can cut off your energy supply remotely.

But, your consumer rights are the same as with traditional meters.This means your energy supplier can’t turn off your energy if you’re in debt without first fully assessing your situation and offering you options such as a repayment plan.

If you’re struggling to pay your bills, you might be able to save money by switching to a cheaper tariff.

Are smart meters the same as smart thermostats?

No, they are two different types of device.

Smart meters are devices which communicate directly with your energy supplier.

Smart thermostats let you control your thermostat, central heating, and hot water remotely via a phone or tablet app.

Are smart meters the same as energy monitors?

Smart meters are different from energy monitors. Energy monitors can show you how much electricity you’re using, they don’t communicate your usage to your supplier.

Smart meter installation

Smart meters and moving house

Tell your energy supplier if you’re moving house. This will make sure that both the smart meters IHD are cleared of all your data, and a final remote meter reading is taken.

Leave your IHD behind for the new occupants of your property. The IHD is paired with the smart meters and won’t work in a different home.

If there are smart meters but not an IHD in your new property, the energy company can send someone to bring a new IHD and link it with the smart meters.

Do I need an internet connection?

No, you don’t need broadband, an internet connection, or Wi-Fi for your smart meter to work.

Smart meters use the Data Communications Company to automatically and wirelessly send your energy usage to your supplier.

This works in the same way as other wireless systems such as car remote keys or TVs, using radio waves.

Are smart meters safe?

Yes, smart meters are safe. All energy firms supplying and installing smart meters are covered by strict UK and EU product safety laws.

Public Health England has said that exposure to radio waves from smart meters is many times lower than the exposure from Wi-Fi and mobile phones, and is well within guideline levels.

If you smell gas you should call the national gas emergency number 0800 111 999 immediately.

Is smart meter installation safe?

Your smart meter and in-home display will be installed by a professional, and sent by your energy supplier.

They will install:

  • a smart meter for your gas
  • a smart meter for your electricity
  • an IHD unit

In most cases, the smart meters will be in the same place as your traditional gas and electric meters. You can choose where the IHD unit goes but it will need a plug socket.

The person who comes to install it will show you how to use your smart meters and IHD, and the whole process should only take a couple of hours.

Installation and coronavirus

Since the coronavirus outbreak, energy suppliers have introduced socially distant ways of installing smart meters and new safety procedures to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Installations may pause if your area goes back into lockdown.

Will my smart meter data be safe?

Yes. Your smart meter doesn’t store personal information such as your name, address and bank details.

The meter simply records your gas and electricity readings in the same way as a traditional meter. The data is then sent to your energy supplier using a dedicated and secure wireless network.

The meter readings can only be shared with your energy supplier to allow it to prepare an accurate bill, and it can’t share this data without your permission.

Because information is shared over the DDC, which is a secure private network, not the internet, it’s unlikely your smart meter would be hacked. Even if it was, the hackers would only find out about your energy usage, not your financial or personal details.

Can I get a smart meter if my home has solar panels?

Yes, you can get a smart meter if you have solar panels.

Your IHD will only show how much energy you are buying from your supplier, not the energy generated by the solar panels. But this might change in the future.


Pros and Cons of smart meters

  • Automatic and accurate bills. Smart meters mean you don’t have to submit meter readings to your supplier or have a meter reader come into your home. Your bills will be accurate, not estimates. · Better understanding of your energy usage. The IHD shows the direct impact your habits and lifestyle have on your energy bill. By understanding your energy usage, you can make better decisions about how you use your heating, household appliances, and personal devices. · Cheaper energy tariffs. Some suppliers only offer their best tariffs to households with a smart meter, or those willing to have a smart meter installed. · Identification of faulty devices. A sudden spike in energy use on your IHD could alert you to a faulty appliance · Saving the planet. You can use smart meter information to change your behaviour and habits, and so use less energy.

Pros

  • Automatic and accurate bills. Smart meters mean you don’t have to submit meter readings to your supplier or have a meter reader come into your home. Your bills will be accurate, not estimates.
  • Better understanding of your energy usage. The IHD shows the direct impact your habits and lifestyle have on your energy bill. By understanding your energy usage, you can make better decisions about how you use your heating, household appliances, and personal devices.
  • Cheaper energy tariffs. Some suppliers only offer their best tariffs to households with a smart meter, or those willing to have a smart meter installed.
  • Identification of faulty devices. A sudden spike in energy use on your IHD could alert you to a faulty appliance
  • Saving the planet. You can use smart meter information to change your behaviour and habits, and so use less energy.

Cons

  • SMETS1 meters may become dumb when you switch suppliers, and you’ll need to manually submit meter readings.
  • SMETS1 meters use the 3G mobile network so there may be issues sending readings to your supplier if there is a weak 3G signal in your area.
  • Some people say the info displayed on IHDs is difficult to understand.
  • Smart meter installation alone won’t reduce your bills. You need to pay attention to your IHD to become more aware of your usage and spend. If you continue with the same energy usage as previously, your bills won’t change.

Should I still switch energy suppliers?

Yes. A smart meter can teach you about your energy habits, but if you want to see savings on your bills, switching energy providers regularly is key.

If you don’t switch suppliers regularly, you are likely to end up on your supplier’s default tariff. This can cost over £300 a year more than the cheapest tariffs on the market.*

Even if you use the information on your smart meter in-home display to reduce your energy use, you’ll still be paying over the odds per unit of energy if you’re not on the best possible tariff.

The best plan to reduce your energy bills is to use the information provided by your smart meter to reduce your energy use, and to switch to the cheapest tariff possible so you pay a low price per unit of energy.

Switching suppliers is quick and easy and you won’t lose power while the changeover takes place.

*Average saving per year by 38,341 standard at prepayment customers visiting TotallyMoney between Tuesday 21st January 2020 and 4th August 2020.

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