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Energy smart meter: should you get one?

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Every household will be offered a smart meter by 2020 but some people aren’t convinced it will save them money or that their data will be kept secure. Should you have a smart meter installed?

The latest statistics from the government reveal there are now over 7.6 million smart meters in homes across the country.

Whether you rent or own your own home, if you’re the energy account holder, you can get a smart meter, providing your supplier offers one – not all have started rolling them out yet. All suppliers are required to offer one to every household in the UK by the end of 2020, though you can refuse to have one.

Recent research by Comparethemarket found that, given the choice, one in five people say they wouldn’t want a smart meter fitted. The majority (55%) of those cited data protection concerns.

Smart Energy GB which runs the smart meter roll-out campaign, says smart meters only monitor your energy use; customers own the energy data on their smart meter and only your supplier has access to it. They can’t share any of it without your consent, and Smart Energy GB adds that it’s up to you to choose how often this information is shared with your supplier.

John MacNeil, head of policy and communications in Scotland at Smart Energy GB, says: “The smart meter system is also completely secure. It has been designed by some of the world’s best cyber security experts, including the National Cyber Security Centre, part of the Government Communications Headquarters.

“Your name, address, or your bank account or any other financial details are not stored on your smart meter. The only information stored on it is your gas and electricity usage and what tariff you have chosen. Our independent research, Smart energy outlook, shows that very few people are concerned about privacy when it comes to smart meters – only 4%.”

If you’re undecided, here’s what you need to know about smart meters.

The benefits of installing a smart meter

One of the main benefits of smart meters is its money saving potential. According to the government’s own figures, households will save a small £11 per year until 2020, but this is due to rise to £47 by 2030.

However, by also seeing how much energy we’re using, it will spur us on to cut back. Peter Earl, head of energy at Comparethemarket, says: “In principle, smart meters will help people keep a better track on their energy usage, engage more with how they use their energy, and get more accurate bills. There’s hope that the technology, which includes an easy-to-use interface and real-time reading capability, will help inform people on exactly how much they’re spending on their energy – which should really help households budget more effectively.”

MacNeil adds that by seeing how much energy you’re using and what it’s costing in pounds and pence, should bring about a “real change to the way people use energy”.

He says: “Our Smart energy outlook research shows that eight in ten people with smart meters have taken steps to use less energy after getting their smart meter – and less energy means less money. We talk to people around the country all the time about the amazing ways they’re finding to save energy with their smart meter. Gen Shaw of Milton Keynes, for example, is saving £15-20 a month on her electricity bills since getting her smart meter.”

Another major benefit is the end of estimated billing. Earl says: “In theory, the smart meter will communicate directly with the provider giving automatic, accurate readings. So people will only pay for the energy they consume, which in theory should be the end of estimated billing disputes.

“It is also expected that supplier savings from no longer having to send staff out to read the meters will be passed on to households.”

Further, consumers armed with accurate information on energy use will be given greater confidence to switch, helping them pick cheaper tariffs.

Smart meters are also available to those on a prepayment meter. There are approximately six million people on prepay meters who will no longer have to take their key to the shops to top up their energy. With smart prepay, they can top up credit online, via apps, over the phone or at the shop.

What do you need to watch for?

There have been compatibility and data problems with the first generation of smart meters – ‘SMETS1’, according to comparethemarket.

It explains that the problem for switchers stems from where suppliers separately developed their own meters, effectively tying the communication between the meter to the one, single supplier.

“Sadly, this means in some cases, the smart functions are lost on switching suppliers, and so consumers need to make an important decision to either stay with their existing supplier and retain the smart functionality, and potentially miss out on savings available through switching, or switch to achieve the savings and revert back to manually providing meter readings,” Earl says.

However, Smart Energy GB, is preparing for the introduction of the new ‘SMETS2’ meters later this year, to fix the flaw for those yet to convert. An upgrade is also expected to be available for SMETS1, meaning these issues should be fixed without the meters having to be replaced.

What happens when you get a smart meter?

As noted above, not all suppliers offer a smart meter and you may have to join a queuing system to get an upgrade. Energy suppliers are responsible for providing and installing smart meters and they can choose to do this in a way that best suits their customers and business, according to Smart Energy GB. So the first point of call is to find out if your supplier offers one.

If so, it’s free to get one and the installation takes a couple of hours. A Gas Safe Register engineer will come to your property to install the smart electricity and smart gas meter which is usually in the same place as your traditional meters. These smart meters hold your energy usage information which is then transmitted to your energy supplier.

This information is also transmitted to the portable display screen – which you’ll also get free of charge –  which lets you see your energy use in real-time, as well as how much it’s costing in pounds and pence. The engineer will show you how to use it.

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