Smart meters: the advantages and disadvantages

smart meter disadvantages

By 2020, all homes and small businesses across Great Britain would have been offered a smart meter. More than 21 million smart meters have already been installed.

The rollout hopes to help consumers see exactly how much energy they’re using, and what it’s costing them.

It’s likely that you would’ve already been offered a smart meter by your energy supplier but what are smart meters, what are the disadvantages of smart meters and should you get one?

What is a smart meter?

A smart meter replaces the current electricity and/or gas meter you have.

The meter automatically sends your reading to your supplier every 30 minutes, meaning no more estimated bills!

What is an In-Home Display (IHD)?

This is an energy monitor you can keep on your kitchen worktop or anywhere else inside your home. It is different from the actual smart meter.

The handy In-Home Display communicates with your smart meter to show you how much energy you are using and what it’s costing you. Some can even tell you how much carbon dioxide (CO2) you’re producing.

What does a smart meter look like?

A smart meter looks a lot like the standard gas and electricity meter that you would have already.

Smart meters come in different shapes and sizes however they tend to have buttons which when pressed, will allow you to cycle through the several displays.

Many people confuse the In-Home Display for a smart meter. The display tends to look different depending on who your supplier is but they all have a large display screen. You can navigate it by pressing buttons or using the touch screen functionality.

Smart meter and in-home display

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What are the advantages of smart meters?

  1. No need to submit meter readings

Smart meters automatically send out readings to your supplier so you don’t have to worry about remembering to submit them monthly. No more standing in the rain and no more torchlights!

  1. You can closely track your usage and spend

The In-Home Display can show you exactly how much energy you’re using as well as the associated cost. It monitors and encourages good energy habits and some homes are already showing energy savings of 5-20%. Great for budgeting!

  1. Accurate bills- no more estimates!

The smart meter sends your readings automatically so you will always be billed for what you use.

If you have a standard (non-smart) meter and forget to submit a reading, your supplier will have to estimate how much energy you’ve used over the billing period. They estimate based on the typical amount of energy you have used in the past or how much they think you will use. Sometimes the supplier’s estimates are inaccurate, especially if they don’t have a lot of information about your usage.

With a smart meter, not only will you avoid inaccurate shock bills but also you can also avoid building a large final bill at the end of your tariff.

  1. Highlights faulty appliances

The In-Home Display shows how much energy you’re using at any given time, allowing you to notice any sudden spikes which may be associated with a faulty appliance. By identifying these promptly you can ensure it is dealt with quickly and safely.

  1. Saving the planet!

Smart meters improve your awareness of energy consumption.  By changing behavioural habits and informing decisions to buy more energy efficient appliances there is less pressure on the electricity grid. Smart Energy GB estimate a 24% decrease in emissions from homes and businesses by 2030.

smart meter reducing co2

  1. Greater selection of tariffs on offer

As we move towards a smart future, smart meters are becoming more widespread. Many suppliers favour smart meters and so are offering exclusive tariffs to households with smart meters.

Smart meter exclusive tariffs are amongst some of the cheapest on offer, giving you plenty of choice. The energy market is your oyster!

  1. Prepay friendly

If you have a prepayment meter you can also upgrade to a smart meter. With a smart prepay meter you easily track how much credit you have left on your meter and even top up from your smartphone or computer. No more worries about going off supply- hakuna matata! 

The other great thing is that, if you’re eligible, you can easily switch to a credit tariff. A smart meter can be switched between prepay mode and credit mode remotely so your supplier will not need to fit a new meter in your home.

What are the disadvantages of smart meters?

  1. Older smart meters become “dumb” once you switch

Currently, if you have a first generation smart meter (SMETS1) when you switch supplier your smart meter may temporarily become “dumb”.

This means that your meter will continue to record your usage however it will lose its smart functionality and it will no longer be able to automatically send your readings to the new supplier. If you need help, just read our guide on how to read your meter manually.

The Data Communications Company (DCC) is responsible for leading the enrolment and adoption of first generation (SMETS1) smart meters. As of the 29th of May 2019, they will begin connecting SMETS1 meters to communicate through the same network so if you already have a SMETS 1 meter, there’s no need to get it changed.

  1. In-Home Display may be inaccurate

When you switch with a SMETS 1 meter, the In-Home Display should continue to display energy use and enable you to retrieve readings without needing to access the meter however their ability to communicate with the smart meter may be inconsistent and in some cases, they stop working entirely.  

  1. Poor signal

First generation smart meters communicate using mobile networks.

In the same way, your mobile signal can sometimes be a bit patchy in some areas, the same applies to smart meters.

The UK’s communications regulator Ofcom, report that 8% of households don’t receive data from mobile networks. With the current mobile network, these homes would not be eligible for a smart meter at all. If you have a weak mobile signal, it can prevent the meter from sending readings to the supplier.

The new dedicated wireless smart meter network that has been set up by the DCC will provide coverage to at least 99.25% of premises in Great Britain.

smart meter rollout statistic

  1. A smart meter will not reduce bills alone

Whilst having a smart meter is showing a reduction in bills, it can’t reduce your usage by itself.

The theory is that by being aware of your usage and spend, you are more inclined to reduce your usage. The reality may be different from home to home, especially if you don’t pay attention to your smart meter.

  1. Some suppliers can’t support smart meters

Unfortunately, not all suppliers offer or support smart meters.

To request a smart meter from your supplier visit here.

Are smart meters compulsory?

It depends.

The government is striving to offer every household a smart meter before 2020 however they aren’t compulsory and you can choose not to have one.

However, some tariffs require you to have a smart meter so it’s important you refer to the tariff specific terms and conditions.

Summary: Smart meter advantages and disadvantages

No need to manually submit readingsIf you have SMETS 1, it may lose smart functionality after you switch
Easy to monitor your energy usage and spending using in-home displayIn-Home Display may be inaccurate
Accurate bills- no more estimates!They won’t reduce your bills alone
Can highlight faulty appliances or potential safety issuesSmart meters may not work if you have a poor signal in your area
Positive impact on the environmentSome suppliers can’t support smart meters
Greater selection of tariffs on offer 

Can I switch with Look After My Bills if I have a smart meter?

You certainly can!

As an energy switching company, we know auto-switching is the simplest way to save money on your energy every year.

We want to make sure you’re always on a great deal and ensure the switching process is as easy as can be.

That’s why we love the second generation of smart meters – they support our mission in doing all the hard work for you.

In the same way we switch you automatically, SMETS 2 meters send your meter reading automatically to your supplier- giving you more time for the things that matter the most!

We work with a variety of suppliers, big and small. Our larger suppliers tend to offer cheaper tariffs that are exclusive for households with smart meters.

To make sure our customer can make the best savings without complication, we will only ever switch you to one of these tariffs if the supplier is offering a SMETS 2.

Some of our suppliers aren’t yet able to support smart meters so your smart meter may temporarily lose smart functionality when we switch you.

But don’t worry, the smart meter will still be able to record your usage and your In Home Display should continue to display energy use and enable you to retrieve readings without needing to access the meter.

In our newsletter we keep you updated on everything you need to know about your energy. Our service has over 200,00 members saving an average of £251 and 1 in 10 people saving over £400! Check out how it works in this step by step guide.

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