How smart are smart meters?
Posted by Sharon Russell-Verma on 3 November 2015 at 11:10 am
This autumn the official roll-out of smart meters across England, Wales and Scotland will begin, and it should be complete by 2020. Smart meters are the next generation of gas and electricity meters. They have in-home displays which help you keep track of the energy you use, and will cut out the need for meter readings. So how do they work and what do you need to know about them?
How do smart meters work?
Smart meters measure the total energy used in your home in the same way as a traditional meter. They are 'smart' because they use radio waves (similar to those of radio transmitters, mobile phones and wi-fi) to communicate the information they collect, allowing remote readings to be taken by utility suppliers.
The system that collects information from the electricity and gas meters has two main components:
- The Home Area Network (HAN). This links the smart meters with an in-home display which allows you, the householder, to view your energy use in real time. Furthermore, it can tell you when you used the energy and how much it costs.
- A communications module that allows communication between the meter and your utility company, so there's no need for someone to come to your home to take meter readings.
The communications are not continuous and data is only actually sent in short, intermittent bursts. The display also presents historical information on energy consumption so that you can compare your current use with your past energy use.
What are the benefits of smart meters?
According to the government and the energy companies who are rolling out the smart meter project, they will:
- provide you with accurate real-time information about your energy use. This should help you to make informed decisions about your energy behaviour.
- allow you greater control and give you the option to be more flexible with your heating settings.
- bring an end to estimated billing - you will only be billed for the energy you actually use, which should help you budget better for your energy bills – no more nasty surprises!
Smart meter roll-out
It will be mandatory for energy companies to offer their customers smart meters. They will also have to follow strict consumer protection rules around:
- data access and privacy
- technical standards for the smart metering equipment
- meeting the needs of vulnerable consumers
- no sales during the installation visit - installers will need the consumer’s permission in advance of the visit if they want to talk about their own products.
How much will a smart meter cost?
Each smart meter costs about £215 and, even though there will be no upfront cost to have smart meters installed, you will pay for them through your energy bills as you do now with your existing meter.
Health and safety
Smart meters are covered by UK and EU product safety legislation. Public Health England (PHE) states that the evidence to date suggests exposures to the radio waves produced by smart meters do not pose a risk to health. Assessments made in other countries that use smart meters have found exposures that are well below internationally agreed guidelines. PHE will be carrying out further research to assess exposures as the technology is rolled out.
Can I refuse a smart meter?
Yes you can. Smart meters are not mandatory. Even though energy companies have been asked to take 'all reasonable steps' to install smart meters in every home, you can refuse a smart meter. If you don't want a smart meter, tell your supplier and they will probably offer to install a 'dumb' meter or a smart meter set up to work in 'dumb' mode with all the communications mode switched off.
Where is the evidence they can help?
There has been criticism about the smart meter rollout because it has been estimated that the average saving for a typical dual fuel bill will be just £26 a year. Smart meters themselves won't actually save you energy or money but it's hoped they’ll give you, the customer, the information you need to make behavioural changes that will. However, there is some evidence from other countries that savings are minimal once the honeymoon period is over.
The next blog in this series will examine how smart meters can work for pre-payment customers and concerns both from the industry and the public about the smart meter roll-out.
Photo: David Dodge
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