Smart Meters: What You Need To Know (Including Whether They'll Cost You)

A digestable guide to what's going on with the national rollout 🌍

Smart meters are expected to be rolled out in every home in England, Wales and Wales by 2020 – but chances are, that’s not going to happen, we’ve now been told. Not only that but the cost of the rollout is likely to “escalate” beyond expectations, according to a National Audit Office (NAO) report.

A smart meter automatically reads how much gas, water or electricity you’re using and then uses a mobile signal to send readings to your supplier. It means the general public no longer have to provide manual readings to suppliers (winner!), but it could come at a cost – an extra £17 per household, according to the NAO, which said this estimate could rise even more to account for other costs like marketing and replacing old smart meters.

The smart meter rollout was originally estimated to cost £11 billion, but NAO said that in 2017 the cost of installing smart meters was 50 per cent higher. So what on earth is going on?!

Why Do We Need Smart Meters?

The Government has set a target for energy suppliers to install smart meters in every home in England, Wales and Scotland. The goal is that every home will be offered a smart meter by 2020.

The aim is to save households an average of £18 a year between 2013 and 2030, after the costs of the programme have been met. The meters will be installed in homes at no extra cost to consumers.

The advantage of smart meters is that households and their energy suppliers always know exactly how much energy they have used – this is because the information will be sent to a display in their home. So if you turn the lights on, you’ll see your energy use go up in real-time. This is a great incentive to cut your usage, which not only saves you money but goes towards helping the planet and its resources.

Another benefit is that you don’t have to be at home to let someone into your home to take a meter reading. At the moment a lot of households have an estimated bill based on their typical energy usage, which means you’re not always paying the correct amount and might be charged too much or too little.

Will The Rollout Meet Its Target?

Probably not, according to NAO. The rollout has struck a number of issues, with 70 per cent of first generation SMETS1 meters “going dumb” when people switch to a new supplier – not ideal.

It said the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) “underestimated” how long it would take to implement the infrastructure and technical standards for their second-generation successors.

A plan to resolve the problem by connecting SMETS1 meters to updated infrastructure has been delayed by six months to May 2019 and NAO is not certain if it would work as intended.

In addition to that, installation of SMETS2 meters in the North of England and Scotland is lagging behind the rest of Great Britain due to problems integrating them with communications infrastructure. There were just 3,000 of them in place at the start of November compared with 106,000 in the rest of Britain.

NAO also criticised energy suppliers for “falling short of their obligation” to provide consumers with advice on how to save energy, which was likely to limit how much money they could save with their smart meters.

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said: “We’ve said everyone will be offered a smart meter by the end of 2020 to reap these benefits and we will meet that commitment.”

How To Get A Smart Meter

If you haven’t heard from your energy supplier (which is unlikely, but possible), give them a call to see how your household could benefit. You can now get smart meters for electricity, gas and also some water companies (like Thames Water) are fitting them too.

Smart meters are not compulsory, however energy suppliers have a duty to offer them to all customers by 2020. According to Smart Energy GB (an organisation tasked with promoting the benefits of smart meters), more than four in five people who have a smart meter say they would recommend one.

Robert Cheesewright, from Smart Energy GB, said: “We must not lose sight of the bigger picture, which is that we urgently need a modern, connected energy system with smart meters at its heart.

“The alternative is that we are stuck with estimated, inaccurate bills from an outdated system that can no longer keep up with the way we use gas and electricity in the 21st century.”