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Smart Meters Pros and Cons

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With intelligent technology being hailed as the future in all aspects of our lives, it is only inevitable that it will make its way into the energy industry. As of 2022, around 23.8 smart meters have been installed in various homes and businesses across the country. This means we are closer than ever to the government’s target of 53 million smart meters in 30 million UK premises by 2025. It also means that if you’ve yet to install one on your property, you are under a lot of pressure to install one.

In line with the government’s smart meter rollout program, energy suppliers are reaching out to customers and offering them smart meters for free. But you are not obligated to accept a smart meter from your energy supplier as the rollout scheme is currently optional. However, there is a high chance that a law that requires all properties to have a smart meter will be enacted at one point.

What is a smart meter?

A smart meter is a next-generation, wireless-enabled device that automatically tracks your gas and electricity usage and shares the data every 30 minutes with your energy supplier via a mobile network. The meter is also connected to an In-Home Display (IHD), a separate energy monitor showing how much energy you are using and its cost. Some newer IHD’s can even track the amount of carbon dioxide you produce.

It is good to note that a smart meter resembles the standard gas and electricity meter, with the only difference being the In-Home Display which most people wrongly believe to be the smart meter. The smart meter usually has buttons that allow you to navigate through different displays on its small screen. On the other hand, the IHD has a large display screen that you can navigate using the touch screen functionality or pressing buttons.

How do smart meters work?

Both electricity and gas smart meters are connected to a secure, nationwide smart network that resembles a mobile network. This network is run by the Data Communications Company (DCC), which reads your gas and electricity usage and sends it to your provider and the IHD.

Smart meters work differently depending on whether it is monitoring your gas or electricity usage. A smart electricity meter is usually connected to the mains and monitors how much power you use every 10 seconds. On the other hand, a smart gas meter is battery-powered and is inactive most of the time, only activating every 30 minutes to send your gas usage to your provider and the IHD.

To or not to install smart meters

As earlier said, your energy provider is obliged to provide you with a smart meter when the smart meter rollout scheme reaches your area. Alternatively, you can call them and request them to install one on your property whenever you want. However, you might choose to stick with your old but reliable analogue meter as you are not obligated to accept a smart meter on your property.

But before you can make that decision, you must have all the necessary information about smart meters to make an informed choice. And to help you do this, we have created an informative list of the advantages and disadvantages of smart meters. After reading through them, you can decide whether it would be worthwhile staying in the analogue age when almost everyone is switching to intelligent technologies.

Pros of smart meters

  1. No more meter readings

Smart meters monitor your energy usage and send it directly to your utility company via a mobile network. This means that your usage data is continually sent to your energy provider for billing purposes. You will, therefore, be bidding goodbye to the old day when you had to scrabble around your cupboard with a torch trying to read indecipherable numbers on your gas and electricity meters. Additionally, they remove the need for your energy supplier to pay someone to come and read your meter, a cost which would eventually be passed down to you in terms of high monthly bills.

  1. Accurate readings

A smart meter will send an accurate reading of your energy usage to your energy supplier on a half-hour, daily, or monthly basis, meaning your bills will be based on real-time data. This does away with estimated energy usage, and your energy provider will be billing you the exact amount of energy you use.

This is unlike the case with traditional non-smart meters, where if you forget to submit your meter reading, the energy supplier will send you an estimated bill based on your past bills. And with the estimated bill being notorious for being highly inaccurate, you either ended up building unnecessary credit or racking up massive debts after months of undercharging.

  1. They are free to install

Energy providers are obligated to offer you a smart meter when their rollout reaches your area. Should you choose to accept the meter, they will install it for free, and you will be enjoying the perks of innovative technology for free.

  1. Smart meters can highlight faulty appliances on your property

The In-Home Display allows you to monitor your energy usage at any given time. You can, therefore, quickly notice a sudden spike in energy consumption, something usually associated with faulty appliances. And by identifying the presence of a defective electric or gas device, you can move and deal with it quickly and safely.

  1. They give you access to data that can help you manage your energy usage.

The portable IHD allows you to see your average usage in terms of pounds and pence, meaning that you can see how much it costs you whenever you perform an action, such as boiling the kettle. This means that you can streamline your behaviour to be more efficient in your energy usage. You stand to save between 5-20% off your annual energy bill with more energy efficiency.

  1. They are suitable for the environment as they help lower your carbon footprint.

By giving you an accurate assessment of your energy usage, smart meters could help you steer towards energy-saving steps by changing your behavioural habits and buying more energy-efficient appliances. These actions will help lower your energy spending and will help decrease your carbon emissions by about 24%.

  1. Allows you to compare your energy usage against national averages

Smart meters will provide you with your energy consumption data to compare with the national energy consumption averages. This will help you determine whether you are using more energy than most households in the country, and if this is the case, you might have some faulty appliances that are making you use too much gas or power.

  1. Easier access to better energy deals

There is a high chance that all the cheapest energy tariffs will only be accessible to those with smart meters in the future. Already, there are a lot of deals available exclusively for people with smart meters. Moreover, the government is incentivizing smart meters and is encouraging energy providers to provide more exclusive gas and electricity deals to people using smart meters.

  1. They are helpful for customers on pre-payment meters

Smart meters come in handy for people on pay-as-you-go tariffs as they enable them to track their credit balances. These meters can also issue warning alerts when the energy balance is low. Moreover, they allow customers to top up their meters via smartphone apps, eliminating the need to run to an energy agent.

  1. It makes managing specialist tariffs easier.

Customers on economy 7 and 10 tariffs can reap maximum benefits from smart meters as they can monitor both their daytime and nighttime usage in real-time to make the most savings. These meters can also help customers monitor the rise and fall of oil and electricity tariffs in real-time and adjust their activities accordingly.

  1. Customers are expressing high rates of satisfaction

80% of households that have already installed smart meters express satisfaction with how they are functioning. This means that there is a high chance that you will also be satisfied with having one.

  1. It is easier to switch energy suppliers.

It is easier to switch energy suppliers with the smart meter eliminating the need to read your meter manually.

Cons of smart meters

Like any other piece of tech, smart meters have their disadvantages which you must consider before making the switch. Some of these disadvantages include:

  1. Older smart meters can become dumb

When switching energy suppliers, first-generation or SMET1 smart meters tend to lose their “smart functionality” when switching energy suppliers. This means that you will revert to reading your meter manually. There is, however, a plan to remotely upgrade all SMETS1 meters to be compatible with all energy suppliers. This will enable all SMETS1 smart meters to retain their smart functionality after switching suppliers.

  1. Smart meters are susceptible to technical issues.

Like all technology, smart meters aren’t infallible to technical errors. When a smart meter develops a technical fault, it reverts to manual reading and will stop giving real-time energy usage updates until it is fixed.

  1. They might not work correctly if there is a poor mobile signal.

Both first and second-generation smart meters rely on a mobile network signal to send your energy usage to your energy provider. This means that they cannot function properly if the mobile network in your place is patchy. However, with the Data Communications Company (DCC) developing a dedicated wireless smart-meter network, this will soon be a thing of the past, and about 99% of all UK households will have access to this reliable smart meter network.

  1. They have privacy concerns

There are concerns that smart meters collect too much information from your home and passes it to your energy supplier, who might then pass it over to third parties. There is, however, no need to worry over this as there are laws that prohibit energy companies from sharing this information without your consent. However, this won’t stop companies from using your data to target you with advertisements.

  1. Excessive monitoring can bring family friction.

It is impossible to cut down your energy usage completely, and if you obsessively monitor your smart meter, you may grow frustrated with the lack of visible changes. You might even end up upset if someone switches on the light and forgets or frequently boils the kettle.

  1. The IHD has a short-lifespan

The IHD units that come with smart meters have a short lifespan of 10 years. This means you will have to replace your smart meter once every ten years, a stark contrast to mechanical meters, which can last for several decades.

  1. You can only reduce your energy bills if you proactively use the provided data to change how you do things.

Smart meters won’t automatically lower your energy bills unless you act on the provided data and actively cut back on your energy usage. This means that you might install a smart meter and still fail to lower your energy bills, especially if you don’t pay attention to it.

  1. Smart meters come with hidden costs.

Although smart meters are free to install, the total cost of the smart meter rollout will eventually be shouldered by bill payers. This means that every household will see its energy bill rise by around £374 to cater for the cost of the smart meter rollout program.

  1. Some suppliers can’t support smart meters.

Not all energy providers have the capacity and infrastructure to provide smart meters. This means that you will have to ditch your current energy supplier in favour of one that offers smart meters if you want to enjoy the benefits of this smart technology.

Should you install a smart meter?

Absolutely yes. With all the benefits you enjoy by installing a smart meter, you stand to gain more by installing one on your property than turning it down. However, you need to keep in mind that the smart meter won’t automatically lower your energy bills unless you act on the data that it provides you with.

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