Smart meters. Should you or shouldn’t you?
Smart meters are branded as gas and electricity meters that make your life easier by simplifying the billing process and providing automatic, up to date readings. The Government originally pledged that all households would have a smart meter by 2020 but this has been downgraded following several issues. Now every home will be offered a smart meter by 2020 but there is no obligation to take one.
So the question is should you have a smart meter?
We’ve looked at the advantages and disadvantages to help you make a decision:
- Smart meters give people greater control over their energy usage by providing near real time information on how much energy you have used and what is has cost you. You can see how much your activity is costing you in pounds and pence.
- You will no longer need to submit manual readings.
- There will be no need for someone to come and read your meter.
- Smart meters are purported to bring an end to estimated billing because you should only be billed for the energy you actually use.
- Smart meters will allow you to budget better because you will have a better idea of how much your next bill will be.
- The cost and maintenance of your smart meter and in-home display would be made through your energy bills rather than an upfront or separate cost.
- Smart meters can work in prepayment or credit mode. In the case of prepayment your energy supplier may be able to offer you new and more flexible ways of topping up your meter that could remove your need to visit a shop. You can also set your smart meter to top up automatically so you don’t run out of credit and power in the middle of the night.
- Smart meters could reduce the number of blackouts and system-wide electricity failures.
- Smart meters could make it harder to switch your gas or electricity provider and thereby benefit from the best deals. Some of the ‘first generation’ smart meters are incompatible with the new national communications network so they ‘go dumb’ when you switch provider. You can still switch providers but you would have to provide manual meter readings and getting manual readings from a ‘smart meter turned dumb’ can be difficult.
- Smart meters aren’t always accurate and have been known to provide some pretty odd readings which can cause problems with your bills. Social media is flooded with stories of customers receiving bills for thousands of pounds because their smart meters have incorrectly reported their usage.
- Smart meters don’t necessarily lead to more accurate bills because most energy providers encourage customers to pay via annual payment plans where their yearly usage is estimated in advance and the cost then split into 12 payments. So customers could still end up with hundreds of pounds of credit on their account.
- Smart meters rely on a mobile signal so if you live in an area with a poor mobile signal, chances are your smart meter won’t work. Smart Energy GB believes the rollout of the national network to make the meters independent of mobile coverage should fix this issue.
- Smart meter installers are under obligation to offer you an in-home display (IHD) and to set this up to meet your needs. However users have reported they can be difficult to read and understand. Eventually mobile apps should be developed which are more customer friendly.
- There is very little evidence to date that smart meters save energy or money. The initial reason for smart meters was to bring down Britain’s energy use but there isn’t much evidence that this has or will happen. British Gas has said that its customers using smart meters save on average £30 a year, but there is very little data available.
- As with other forms of technology smart meters are susceptible to hacking. An investigation by BBC Watchdog in July 2017 raised questions about the links between smart meters and fires. It wasn’t clear whether the meters themselves or their installation was at fault.
- Smart meters don’t necessarily suit all property types so make sure you contact your gas and electricity supplier to ask.
If you rent your property and your gas and electricity bills are addressed to you rather than your landlord, you don’t need your landlord’s permission to get a smart meter, but you should inform them. If your landlord pays the bills, you should check with them first before arranging your smart meter installation.
If you decide you would like a smart meter, contact your energy supplier. There should be no sales during the installation visit (unless they have prior agreement with you to discuss other products) and installers must provide energy efficiency advice as part of the visit. You can report any breaches to your energy supplier. You have a choice about how your energy consumption data is used, apart from where it is required for billing and other regulated purposes. You can decide whether your supplier can use your meter reads for sales and marketing. You will be able to share data with switching websites and other third parties if you want to get advice on the best tariff for you.
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