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Get smart about smart meters

Posted by Sam Tonge on 16 April 2018 at 10:36 am

A smart meter can provide you with a detailed breakdown of your gas and electricity usage and costs in real time, best viewed through a linked in-home display.  The meter puts an end to the laborious process of estimated billing by feeding your supplier your usage data automatically, meaning you no longer will have to provide your own manual meter readings. The in-home display reveals your gas and electricity consumption to improve your knowledge of how much you’re using and can be programmed to display this information in relation to your chosen tariff, e.g. Economy 7.

If you pay by direct debit, you will be billed much more accurately based on your actual usage during the past month or quarter. If you’re on a pre-payment meter, a smart meter will open up more flexible ways of topping up your meter, e.g. on your mobile or online. You’ll also be less likely to unknowingly run out of credit, as you can see how much you’re using and you can even set your meter to automatically top up, so you won’t be left without power if you run out of credit and the shops are shut.

So what’s the catch? We know that smart metering technology is not without controversy. We will address four concerns raised with us by YouGen readers.

 

  • Can I still switch energy supplier?

There are two types of smart meters in circulation, the majority of which are ‘first generation’ or ‘SMETS 1’ devices. The key problem with these models is that when you want to switch energy supplier, your new supplier cannot read the data from your smart meter, meaning it becomes a ‘dumb’ meter again and you have to provide manual readings. Or, you can have a new smart meter installed entirely by the new supplier after you’ve switched (assuming you want one and they provide them).

According to reports, energy suppliers are still installing these old SMETS1 models. To minimise the likelihood of ending up with one, you could always specify when asking your supplier that you’d like a ‘second generation’ or ‘SMETS2’ meter. Your supplier is obligated to say whether your smart meter will be affected if you were to leave them, so make sure to ask them to clarify this.

From October 2018, suppliers will have to stop installing SMETS1 meters and will have install a SMETS2 instead, so if you feel a bit dubious about getting a potentially-obsolete meter installed, it might be worth waiting until next year.

It’s also worth mentioning that first generation (SMETS1) smart meters are expected to be connected to a new national infrastructure scheme run by the Government-appointed Data and Communications Company (DCC) in the first half 2019. This will mean all smart meter owners can change suppliers without losing the smart features, as SMETS1 meters will be able to communicate with a data cloud, enabling you to switch and stay smart with your new provider.

 

  • Will poor mobile or Wi-Fi signal prevent me from installing a smart meter?

Smart meters use an entirely separate, bespoke wireless system to transmit your usage data to your energy company – similar to when you use a card reader for online banking. You don’t need Wi-Fi for it to work and even if you have it, it won’t use it.

Ongoing concerns have been raised by some users about their meter having difficulty connecting to the network, particularly in high rise flats or rural properties. Ofgem state that smart meter communications coverage will reach over 99% of households in Britain by 2020, using a range of technologies, not just mobile signals. To reduce the likelihood of poor signal, ask your supplier whether they’re currently able to install smart meters in your area, to get proof on whether you’ll be eligible.

 

  • How will my data be stored and used by companies?

According to Smart Energy GB, smart meters have been designed by working with top cyber security experts, including the Government and GCHQ. It’s important to remember that your smart meter only stores information about how much gas and electricity you’ve used, NOT personal information that could identify you, such as your name, address or bank account. Of course, your supplier will have this information in order to bill you, but it won’t be transmitted across by your smart meter.

UK energy regulator Ofgem, are very clear about your rights. They state that suppliers can access your daily energy usage data unless you object, but must get your explicit permission to access your data at intervals more frequent than every half-hour, or to use your data for marketing purposes, e.g. to offer you special deals or tariffs in relation to your usage. Gas smart meters can only do readings every 30 minutes, as they are powered by batteries, but a similar agreement in terms of using your data remains in place.

So to be clear, you’re very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to how much of your data will be stored, shared and acted upon. For more information, see the Data Guide for Smart Meters developed by Energy UK and Citizens Advice.

 

  • Will a smart meter work if I generate my own electricity?

Smart meters currently only pass on to your suppler how much energy you’re buying from them, and show you this directly through your in-home display. According to Smart Energy GB the SMETS2 models should be able to communicate with solar panels, and although some SMETS1 models do, this depends on how they’re installed.

However, it’s clear from customer feedback that the two technologies don’t always work in tandem, and energy suppliers we contacted weren’t able to provide a uniform response.

We called one energy supplier in the Big Six who stated that their SMETS2 models would be compatible with their customers’ solar PV. However another supplier indicated that the compatibility would depend upon whether your home had either one or two MPANs (Meter Point Administration Numbers). Based on this lack of clarity and consistency in responses, we strongly suggest you let your energy supplier know that them you have solar PV, prior to the installation of the smart meter. It seems that the compatibility of the two technologies is very much dependent on your individual situation, meaning it’s important to seek advice to reduce the likelihood of difficulties later on.

 

Some concluding thoughts

It’s worth highlighting that a recent survey showed that 75% of people with smart meters say they would recommend having one installed to their family and friends, with around 82% saying they have taken steps to reduce energy waste after making use of the information provided by the technology.

However as the evidence above shows, it’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’. We encourage you to think carefully about what you seek to gain from installing a smart meter, contact your supplier and consider the points above before adopting the technology in your home.

It’s also worth ensuring that your supplier will supply you with an in home display at the same time as fitting your smart meter and remembering that despite the benefits it’s not compulsory to have a smart meter installed by the deadline of 31st December 2020.  Instead your supplier will have to prove to Ofgem that they have taken all reasonable steps to offer you a smart meter (which offer you have refused).Have you had a smart meter installed in your home? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

 

About the author: Sam joined YouGen in 2017 as a Project Officer, after having achieved a BSc (Hons) degree in Geography from Royal Holloway, University of London. 

He is passionate about renewable energy and sustainability and has undertaken a variety of placements focused in these areas. 

Sam coordinates the YouGen blog, newsletter and recommendation service on behalf of installers, as well as driving the platform forward through an active social media presence. 

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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Comments

15 comments - read them below or add one

Piglet

PigletComment left on: 31 May 2018 at 5:25 pm

Our PV system has been in place for 3 months now and the grid meter is going backwards. When I discussed this with my electricity supplier they tried to insist I had a smart meter installed. I insisted equally firmly that I did not want one and was not legally obliged to have one. Pretty quickly they " found" they still had some non smart meters in their warehouse and arranged to fit it. 

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JWD

JWDComment left on: 27 April 2018 at 11:19 pm

kranga13 I was trying to find out about 3-phase smart meters today from some of the major suppliers. I concluded it wasn’t yet available. I am installing 3-phase in a new house to support 8kWp PV and an all-electric based house. I would have preferred to start with a smart meter rather than have to have it changed later. (I’m not paranoid about smart meters)

 

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richmc

richmcComment left on: 27 April 2018 at 5:02 pm

chrisandchantel,

You don't have to have a smart meter fitted, in law you can refuse, some companies get pretty nasty if you refuse, just tell them you are going to switch supplier and goodbye. I'm sure the callers are from some call center and are on a by results rate.

As far as smart meters being better than estimates, there was a report of a woman (in the USA) being billed for $250,000 for one months useage! Accurate, utter tripe!

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richmc

richmcComment left on: 27 April 2018 at 4:55 pm

adriansd and Gary,

too right! I have a Wattstor battery system and solar diverter and currently export less than 10% to the grid so smart meter No thanks! I'm sure the power companies will jump on stuff like this to try and change contracts that we have been promised will stand for 20 years.

Robert,

I too was TOLD my meter would be replaced on such a date, my reply was not pleasent, when the guy insisted I told them they better come with a warrant, he still insisted the meter would be replaced and they had a statutory right of entry (that is true) he was told if he insisted the company would be sued and I would persue arrest for criminal damage. I still have my standard meter, I won't be bullied into a smart meter. This was one of the non British owned power companies.

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Gary

GaryComment left on: 27 April 2018 at 2:44 pm

I am not an expert on smart meters and deemed export but my undstanding is that at present smart meters that are capable of working with PV and therefore of providing export figures are not calibrated in the way a TGM is.  As such they cannot be used (or better we cannot be forced to accept their use) to replace the deemed export. I got the little knowledge i have on this via EOn.

Ironically though, most people actually export more than 50% - more like 70% - so may benefit from this particular aspect of smart meters - should the industry ever get its show on the road.  Those with EVs or diversion to more than just domestic hot water may suffer but the rest may benefit.

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adriansd

adriansdComment left on: 27 April 2018 at 9:52 am

richmc makes a valuable comment about smart meters used with PV and deemed export.  Some smart meter are now capable of reading the amount exported in which case the 50% deemed rate is lost.  A comment about this would be be very helpful.

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chrisandchantal

chrisandchantalComment left on: 27 April 2018 at 9:43 am

I give my meter readings regularly and I don't see why a smart meter should replace me and do a better job! it is ridiculous and if I have my way I won't have any of those fitted. I had problem with EON who was telling me I had consumed more than I actually had and I was pleased to have all my readings in hand to prove to them I knew my consumption.

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Jeff B

Jeff BComment left on: 26 April 2018 at 11:26 pm

I have solar PV and I take a reading of the generation meter every day, so reading my electricity meter 4 times a year is hardly a chore. I use a plug-in energy meter to monitor the usage of my various electrical appliances when necessary. So what is the benefit of a smart meter to me? Forgive my cynicism but I would say the answer is none; but rather it is of potentially great benefit to my electricity supplier who will undoubtedly start charging premium rates at peak times!

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Robert Sebley

Robert SebleyComment left on: 26 April 2018 at 10:54 pm

Thanks for some very useful information on smart metering. I was recently rung to book a date for a smart meter installation but turned down the offer for all the reasons mentioned. I did have, free from BG until it went defective, a monitor which gave an instant readout of KWs being exported or imported and I found that very useful, especially when deciding to use something like dishwasher or electric mower using power from my panels. If the smart meter had that facility I would have accepted the offer.

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Gary

GaryComment left on: 26 April 2018 at 5:58 pm

With the greatest of respect to the author the first part of the article reads as though it comes from the marketing hype, not sold or reasoned research, sorry.

Smart meters may be OK for the lazy and energy-ignorant or ill-informed but most people on this site don't fall into those categories, that is why we visit! 

I am acutely energy-aware and have wiped over 70% off both gas and electricity import over the past 8 years (since I started keeping records because I wanted to change behaviours and habits in our household). I take monthly readings and provide them to my provider. I have a monitor for electricity use, generation, import and export. I can't see the point in trying to do the same for gas in real time as you either need heat or not and I use PV for about 80% of my hot water.

So, what would a smart meter add? Absolutely nothing apart from saving me 5 minutes per month reading meters. Wow!!

Leaving the use to which the data may or may not be put and the real motivations of the providers to one side, I see no point whatsoever in smart meters. Oh, and they do not replace inaccurate billing, they only spread the cost differently. This is because meters are read at least annually and if one is paying by fixed direct debit then the cost, real or estimated, is spread evenly over the year. Also are fluctuating "accurate to each month" bills better or worse than a level direct debit or regular payment for low income households? Jury's out on that for me.  Far worse is the pre-payment meter which is verging on the criminal in my opinion but that is for a separate debate!

Anyway, I will not be having a smart meter until and unless anyone can convince me that there is a real benefit to having one, which is a shame because I was looking forward to the concept and technology but the gains I had hoped for just aren't there.

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richmc

richmcComment left on: 26 April 2018 at 5:34 pm

Smart meters are only of use to the terminaly lazy, if unlike me you can't be bothered to take a reading at the end of each month then you derserve to be over or under charged.

Smart meters are the spawn of the devil. They are being introduced so energy companies can charge you a premium for using power during the peak period NOT so they can benevently charge you less off peak, also as a solar user how long will it be before the deemed 50% export is replaced with actual export?

Canonballdaze is absolutly correct, there's nothing laborious about reading your meter and sending it on line, Mr Tonge, why are you asuming those on low income are too thick to read and submit a reading, as a person on a pension of just £775 a month I asume you would consider me vunerable and incapable of looking after my energy useage, I find that most offensive.

Type one or two I don't give a jot, NOT IN MY HOME! I'm not going to be spied on by the energy companies or the govenment.

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S Tonge

S Tonge from Comment left on: 26 April 2018 at 2:20 pm

kranga13 - thank you for your feedback. Good question - unfortunately I don't know the answer myself, but hopefully someone on here will be able to help you. Or alternatively contacting your supplier's 'technical services' department might be a good starting point. Good luck.

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S Tonge

S Tonge from Comment left on: 26 April 2018 at 2:19 pm

Cannonballdaze - As I'm sure you're aware, relying on estimated bills can lead to customers underpaying their supplier. This can result in a 'back bill' which can not only come as a shock to many householders but can cause financial difficulties for those who are vulnerable or on a low income. Many customers who are deemed vulnerable for whatever reason might find the process of finding the money and indeed getting the back bill paid laborious and quite stressful. 

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cannonballdaze

cannonballdazeComment left on: 26 April 2018 at 2:13 pm

How is estimeted billing laborious ? Is inaccurate the word you are looking for ?

I tell you what is laborious - working the extra 20 or more hours need to pay the increased bills caused by the cost of supplying and installing a smart meter.

i.e. meter supply and install = circa £200

20 hours work at £10 / hour after tax = £200.

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kranga13

kranga13Comment left on: 26 April 2018 at 2:08 pm

Great article & very useful to understand about 1st vs 2nd generation SMART meters. We have a ground mounted Solar Array and generate & use electricity on a 3-phase supply, does anyone know whether the SMART meters support 3-Phase ?

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