Smart Meters: What are They and How Do You Use Them?

Sick of unpleasant surprises when you see your energy bills? A smart meter is a great way to gain visibility of your energy usage, and take back control of your utility spending. Unlike a conventional energy meter, a smart meter transmits data about your energy usage directly to your supplier. No more inconvenient meter readings. No more inaccurate estimated bills.
Last update: April 2022

As you may have heard on the news, the UK energy market is currently under an immense amount of stress as a result of a global gas shortage driving up costs and putting several energy suppliers out of business. To learn more about this and stay updated on a daily basis you can read our page on the UK energy crisis.

If your current energy can’t supply you with a smart meter, the Papernest team can help you to find a new supplier that can. Let’s take a look at how a smart meter can benefit your household, and your energy bills.
We’ll also take a look at how to read your smart meter, how to top up your smart meter, and which suppliers offer smart meters. We’ll also take a look at some potential problems with smart meters and what you can do about them.

What is a smart energy meter? How does it work?

Smart meters have been around for over 10 years now, with the first models rolling out in 2009. However, there are many energy consumers who still don’t understand smart meters, how to use them, whether they’re eligible to receive one, or whether they’re the right choice for their household.
Smart Meter
Just like your existing conventional meter, a smart meter records your gas and electricity usage. The key difference is that a smart meter transmits this usage data to your energy supplier. So you don’t need to bother taking monthly readings and submitting them to your energy supplier any more.
You cannot install a smart meter yourself. Your energy supplier needs to send an engineer to your home to replace your existing meter with a smart meter.

How do smart meters work?

Gas and electricity smart meters work in slightly different ways. An electricity meter is plugged into the mains, and monitors your use in real-time. A gas meter is battery powered and will remain inactive most of the time, coming to life briefly in order to give a reading and communicate it to your supplier.
Smart meters come with a device called an In-Home Display (IHD). This communicates with your smart meter wirelessly, and shows how much energy your household is using in real-time as well as how much you’re currently spending.
The way in which smart meters communicate with energy suppliers, and what kind of data they communicate depends largely on which generation of smart meter you have (more on that later). However, broadly speaking they use wireless networks in much the same way as a smartphone. As such, you can use a smart meter in your home, even if you don’t have an internet connection.

How can a smart meter save energy?

It’s important to remember that having a smart meter doesn’t automatically make your energy any cheaper. It can, however, drive down your energy bills by enabling you to track your usage in real-time. You can identify the electricity vampires that are quietly sucking away your electricity, and identify hours of peak energy usage. What’s more, you can see the effects of energy-saving measures like efficient CFL bulbs, turning down your thermostat, or switching electronics off at the wall rather than leaving them on standby overnight.

Why are smart meters being rolled out?

The UK government, along with energy watchdog Ofgem, aims to make smart meters available to all households and businesses by June 2025. As of Q3 2020 (the most up-to-date figures at the time of writing), there are 22.2 million smart meters in use across the UK.
Why are the UK government and Ofgem so keen to make smart meters readily available?
Because as a nation, we’re massively overspending on the energy we use. In fact, between us we’re spending roughly £800 million more than we should for the gas and electricity that power our homes.
Switching energy suppliers is a great way to ensure that your energy is always competitively priced. Nonetheless, even with a cheaper energy supplier, many energy consumers overspend because they find it difficult to keep track of their energy usage. Or they find themselves spending too much because they fail to submit meter readings to their suppliers, and their bills are based on estimates that don’t accurately represent their usage.
The Papernest team can help you to find the perfect supplier and energy plan for your needs. Combined with a smart meter, this can make for great savings on your energy bills.

How do smart meters benefit energy companies?

Energy companies are also keen to play their part in the rollout, and make smart meters available to as many customers as possible. When customers have smart meters, they feel much more in control of their energy spend. And this means fewer disputes over estimated bills, fewer issues caused by billing inaccuracies, and generally happier customers who feel like they’re getting great value for money.

What information does a smart meter provide your energy company?

In the post-GDPR era, it’s understandable that energy consumers want to know exactly what information gets communicated to their energy suppliers when they use a smart meter.
Rest assured, a smart meter does not transmit any personal or sensitive data to your supplier. All that’s recorded is your usage in kilowatt hours (kWh). Your IHD device converts this data into monetary value (pounds and pence) to make it clearer about how much you’re spending on energy. Your supplier cannot see or access your IHD. Energy suppliers monitor how much energy you use and when you use it most.

How does my energy supplier use my smart meter data?

This data is used in a number of ways by your supplier:

  • It ensures that bills are accurate
  • It shows when you’re using the most energy, allowing them to make recommendations about energy efficiency
  • It allows the supplier to identify and put a stop to instances of energy theft
  • It identifies opportunities to move to a tariff that might better suit your usage
  • It identifies any interruptions in your supply, so that your supplier can take immediate action to get you back up and running

Under GDPR rules, you are in control of the following when you get a smart meter fitted:

  • How often your supplier collects data from your smart meter. This can be as often as every 30 minutes or as seldom as once a month.
  • Whether they can use this data to marketing products to you (such as recommending different tariffs or energy-saving devices)
  • Whether or not they can share this data with other companies

How to read a smart energy meter?

Most of the time, it’s easier to use your IHD to keep track of your usage data. However, if your IHD is lost or damaged (or your supplier never issued you with one), you can still take a reading directly from the smart meter to track your own usage.
Smart meters have a very simple interface, allowing you to track your usage in kWh. You can then convert this into monetary terms. Just subtract the last meter reading from the most recent. Then multiply this figure by the unit rate per kWh assigned to each fuel in your tariff.
How to read your smart meter depends on which generation of smart meter you have, SMETS 1 or SMETS 2. SMETS, by the way, stands for Smart Meter Equipment Technical Specifications.

SMETS 1 and SMETS 2. What’s the difference?

If you’re considering getting a smart meter, you’ve probably already seen that there are two kinds of smart meter in circulation across the UK. These are SMETS 1, the first generation of smart meter, and SMETS 2, the second generation of smart meters. These have been in use since 2018, and many energy suppliers currently offer these.
While both can be extremely useful in helping you to track your energy spending, they differ in one fundamental way. The network they use to communicate. And this can make a big difference to you as an energy consumer.
SMETS 1 smart meters use a 3G network, much like a mobile phone. Unfortunately, this means that it’s also subject to all the same limitations. A smart meter’s 3G transmission can be blocked by certain structures and building materials. Furthermore, when you change energy suppliers, your SMETS 1 smart meters will “go dumb”. This means that it will stop transmitting usage data to your new supplier, and you will need to go back to supplying meter readings manually. It will, however, still work with your In-Home Display. So you can still use it to track your usage in real-time more efficiently than venturing to your meter cupboard every day.
SMETS 2 meters use a different kind of network. These second-generation meters feed your usage data is fed into the DCC network. This is a secure network that gets its name from the Data and Communications Company that manages it. Aside from some differences in build and interface, the main advantage of these meters is that they remain fully functional even if you switch to a new supplier. In fact, you can switch suppliers as many times as you like and your smart meter will still continue to transmit your usage data to the new supplier.

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How to read a SMETS 1 meter

If you have a SMETS 1 meter this can be set to either single-rate or multi-rate (if you have an economy 7 or 10 meter). In either case reading it is pretty straightforward.
For single-rate meters :

  • Press button ‘9’ on the keypad to wake up the meter
  • Press once to show the total use, displayed as “IMP kWh” followed by the read itself in kWh. This stays on your screen for 4 seconds
  • You can press button ‘9’ again to scroll through additional displays including export energy if you are on a Feed-In-Tariff

For dual-rate meters:

  • Press button ‘6’ on the keypad to display individual readings
  • Pressing once will first display your peak usage (displayed as “IMP R01”), press again for your off-peak usage (displayed as “IMP R02”)
  • Alternatively, you can also press ‘9’ to see your total meter read

How to read a SMETS 2 meter

SMETS 2 meters are growing increasingly common, and most suppliers will now exclusively supply these kinds of meters. While there are lots of different smart meter manufacturers, they usually have a simple 2-button interface:

  • Press A once to take an electricity meter reading. “TOU rate 1” will flash up, followed by your usage in kWh. Press A again if you have a dual-rate meter and you’ll see your off-peak usage displayed as “TOU rate 2”.
  • For gas meters, simply press any button once to wake up the meter. It will automatically default to the read screen.

How do I know if I have a 2nd generation smart meter?

Your energy supplier should let you know which kind of smart meter they provide you with. However, if you’re unsure, there are a few ways in which you can determine if your smart meter is first or second generation.
Because there are so many manufacturers and different interfaces, it can be hard to know for sure whether you have a SMETS 2 meter or SMETS 1. The easiest way to check is to take a look at the serial number. You’ll find this on the meter itself near the barcode, as well as on your energy bill. If the serial number starts with 19M, you have a SMETS 2 meter. If the serial number starts with 19P, it’s SMETS 1.

I’ve got older smart meters, how do I get them upgraded?

If you currently have a SMETS 1 meter and want to upgrade, you should talk to your energy supplier to see if they are willing and able to do this. The good news is that SMETS 1 meters can be upgraded remotely, and you don’t need to get an engineer out to carry out the upgrade. This will be a relief to many energy consumers in the COVID era. Some suppliers, like Octopus Energy, have stated that while they cannot offer this remote upgrade at present, they plan to be able to later in 2021. It’s important to note that this upgrade does not turn a SMETS 1 meter into a SMETS 2, and your smart meter will still use the same 3G network. However, it will enable you to switch suppliers without a loss of functionality.

Is it obligatory to have a smart meter?

No, even when we get to 2025, nobody’s going to force you to install a smart meter. Neither your supplier nor the government can mandate that you get a smart meter if you don’t want one. However, as you’ve probably worked out by this point, that doesn’t mean that a smart meter isn’t worth having.
They’re free, installation is minimally disruptive, and can help you to take control of your energy usage, and, more importantly, your bills.
Smart Energy Meter

Smart meter suppliers: Choosing and changing

As we get closer to 2025, more and more energy suppliers have begun to roll out smart meters. But there remains much confusion as to which energy suppliers will fit smart meters, which suppliers fit the best meters, and what happens if you decide you want to change energy suppliers.

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Can you change energy suppliers when you have a smart meter?

Yes, absolutely. And, needless to say, the experts at Papernest are always here to help you find the right energy supplier. Whether you have a SMETS 1 or SMETS 2 meter, you should be able to switch energy supplier without worrying about any ill effects to your supply or your bills. The only issue is that you may lose your smart meter functionality if you have a SMETS 1 meter. If you currently have this kind of meter, you should talk to your current supplier to see if they can upgrade it remotely. Again, this doesn’t transform your SMETS 1 smart meter into a SMETS 2 and it will still use the 3G network. However, it will maintain its full functionality after switching suppliers.

What energy company guarantees installing a smart meter?

Most of the best-known energy suppliers offer smart meters to customers at the time of writing. Even during the pandemic, smart meter installations are still going ahead, with the appropriate safety measures being taken to assure the safety of both customers and engineers.
This includes all the the “Big 6” energy suppliers (British Gas, E.On, Scottish Power, N Power, SSE, EDF), as well as most of the independent and green energy suppliers on the market.
In the table below, you can see which energy suppliers can guarantee smart meter installation and which generation of smart meter they currently offer.

Supplier Smart meter type
British Gas SMETS 1 and SMETS 2
Bristol Energy SMETS 1 and SMETS 2
Bulb SMETS 2 exclusively
Co-operative Energy SMETS 2
Ecotricity SMETS 1 and SMETS 2 (depending on location)
EDF Energy SMETS 2
EON- SMETS 2
Good Energy SMETS 2
Green Network Energy SMETS 2
Igloo Energy SMETS 2
Lumo SMETS 2
Npower SMETS 2
Octopus Energy SMETS 1 and SMETS 2 (currently experiencing shortages of SMETS 2 meters from manufacturer)
Outfox The Market SMETS 2
OVO Energy SMETS 2
Pure Planet SMETS 2
Scottish Power SMETS 2
Shell Energy SMETS 2
Simplicity Energy SMETS 1
Spark Energy SMETS 2
SSE SMETS 2
Utility Warehouse SMETS 2

Which energy supplier has the best smart meters?

Different energy suppliers use different manufacturers. But in all honesty, the difference between these is fairly negligible. Your primary consideration should be how useful your skart meter will be to you if you choose to change suppliers in future.
Ideally, this means that you should opt for a supplier that offers SMETS 2 meters. The good news is that many of the suppliers offering smart meters are also counted among the cheapest and the greenest energy suppliers.
These include:

  • Bulb
  • Good Energy
  • Octopus Energy
  • Outfox The Market
  • Pure Planet

However, if you decide upon a supplier that only offers SMETS 1 meters (or only has them available in your area), it’s worth asking if they can upgrade your meter so that it will still work if you choose to change suppliers later.

If I change energy suppliers, what happens to the smart meter?

Whatever kind of meter you have, you’ll be able to keep hold of it when you change suppliers. The cost of supplying and fitting your smart meter is borne by your supplier, and you are not expected to compensate them for this.
So you don’t have to worry about them turning up to remove your smart meter or sending you a bill for it in the post.

How to get an energy smart meter?

Now we know a little more about smart meters, the different types, how to use them, and which energy companies supply them. So you’re hopefully close to making a decision on whether or not you think that installing one is a good idea for your home.
Nonetheless, you may still have some questions about getting a smart meter, and the installation process. The good news is that getting a smart meter fitted is easy, relatively quick and minimally disruptive.
Let’s take a close look at the installation process.

I’ve decided I want smart meters. What’s the fitting process?

In principle, getting a smart meter is fairly straightforward. All you need to do is contact your energy supplier and arrange an appointment to get one installed. An installation takes around 3 hours for gas and electricity meters, or 1-1.5 hours for electricity only. During the process, the engineer will need to disconnect your power for approximately 20 minutes.
Contact your supplier over the phone or visit their website, and you will be able to book an appointment to get a smart meter fitted. Your supplier will not charge you for this, and you will be able to change the appointment date if you need to. Most suppliers allow you to reschedule right up until midnight the day before the installation is due to take place. Due to complications caused by COVID-19, it may take several weeks to get an appointment for installation.
Here, we’ll break down everything that happens before, during and after smart meter installation:

Before your smart meter is installed

There are a few things that you can do prior to the installation to ensure that the whole process goes as smoothly as possible. These include:

  • Open any external windows and doors where the smart meter(s) will be installed
  • Make sure that there are no obstacles in the way that could prevent the engineer from getting to the meter safely
  • Make sure there will be at least one person over the age of 18 in your home when the engineer comes to carry out the installation
  • Ensure that children and pets are kept away from the engineer while they are working
  • Your engineer will need to shut off the power to your home for anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes. So ensure that this won’t disrupt your plans
  • Ensure that you keep your phone with you at all times in case the engineer needs to contact you
  • If you require extra peace of mind, your engineer will carry an ID badge with them. Don’t be afraid to ask them to display this for you before you let them into your home

The installation process

The installation process is split into 4 sections. These are preparation, inspection, installation and some final checks.
Here, we’ll break down everything that will happen on the day of installation:

Preparation

  • Your engineer will probably check with you to ensure that everyone in your household is in good health and to remind you of social distancing guidelines.
  • All their tools and equipment will have been disinfected before entering your home, and they will wear a face covering and gloves at all times.

Inspection

  • The engineer will visually inspect your gas appliances and boiler to ensure that they are in good working order
  • A final meter reading will be taken from your old meters before the smart meter is installed.
  • If your meters are not located inside your property, your contact with the engineer will be minimal

Installation

  • Once the checks have been carried out, the smart meter installation will begin. This will usually take 1-2 hours depending on whether your home uses one or two fuels
  • The engineer will need to switch off your electricity and gas supply for 20-30 minutes. They will, however, let you know before they do this. So you have the opportunity to save the work on your computer or make a quick cup of tea
  • The engineer may need to enter your home. If so, you will need to wait in another room to ensure proper social distancing

Final checks

  • Once the installation is carried out, the engineer will carry out a series of checks to ensure that it is in proper working order.
  • If you have any burglar alarms that are mains connected, the engineer may also ask you to check that these are still in working order before they leave

Where will the smart meters be installed?

The engineer will install your smart gas and electricity meters in the same location as your old meter. They may, however, be able to move your meter slightly. Most suppliers will allow you to move your meter up to 3m on the same wall at no extra charge.

Am I eligible for smart meters?

In theory, all energy consumers are eligible for a free smart meter. It’s just a case of whether your current energy supplier is able to provide you with one, and whether they can provide you with a meter that you’re happy with. Whether you have a single-rate meter or a dual-rate meter (such as Economy 7 or Economy 10), you are still eligible to get your conventional meter replaced with a smart meter.
It’s worth noting, however, that some SMETS 2 meters have a limited number of ports, and this can create complications if your home uses Economy 7 storage heaters. You may still be able to get a 5 port SMETS 1 smart meter, or you may have to wait for your supplier to source a 5 port SMETS 2 meter.

Can I get smart meters if I’m renting?

While it’s a good idea to double check with your landlord / letting agent, private tenants are usually able to get smart meters installed. A smart meter installation makes the property more attractive to future tenants, so most landlords will have no objections to your booking an installation. That said, it’s better to be safe than sorry. So always ask your landlord or letting agent as a courtesy.

Can I get them if I’m a prepay customer?

Yes. Prepayment meters can also be upgraded to smart meters. Indeed, Pay As You Go energy consumers are likely those who will benefit the most from a smart meter. You’ll never again need to worry about having to rely on emergency credit or get caught out when your credit is low. And because you can see the impact of your energy saving measures in real-time, you can ensure that you get the most out of your credit.

I’m moving home – what happens to my smart meters?

Your smart meter will have to stay where it is when you move home. Neither your smart meter nor your In-Home Display (IHD) is designed to be portable. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to benefit from a smart meter in your new home. You’ll just need to arrange an appointment to get a new smart meter fitted. When moving to a new home you’ll need to decide whether you remain with your current supplier in the new property or choose a new one.
Just make sure you switch suppliers or tariffs as soon as possible when you move in. As soon as you’re legally responsible for the property’s energy supply you’ll be placed on a “deemed contract” with the property’s incumbent supplier. And this is almost certainly not going to be the cheapest tariff. Once you have decided on a new supplier, make arrangements with them to install a smart meter in your new home. For more information, take a look at our guide to setting up gas and electricity in your new home!

I’ve moved to a new home with smart meters – what should I do?

You shouldn’t need to do anything. You can enjoy the benefits of having a smart meter as soon as you move into your new home.
That said, it’s definitely worth checking whether your new home’s smart meter is SMETS 1 or SMETS 2. Just take a look at the meter’s serial number. SMETS 1 meters will start with “19P” while SMETS 2 meters will start with “19M”. If you have a SMETS 1 meter, contact the incumbent supplier to see if it has been upgraded. If so, you will be able to enjoy full functionality when you change energy suppliers.
If your new property has a smart meter, but no In-Home Display, you can request a new one from the incumbent supplier. However, you will be liable for the cost.

Is there a downside to having a smart meter?

As we can see, smart meters are impressive technological advancements that can help energy consumers to take control of their energy consumption and spending. But are there any downsides to having a smart meter in your home?
As with any technology, there is a propensity for things to go wrong with smart meters. As such, to ensure you make a well-informed decision, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re aware of the potential downsides to installing a smart meter.
These include:

  • If you live in a rural area or high rise flats with thick walls, the signal from your smart meter may not reach your supplier
  • You need to keep your expectations realistic. Having a smart meter in your home won’t automatically save you money. You need to be proactive in monitoring your usage and making changes to conserve energy
  • Although smart meters are available to customers with prepayment meters, they are less common than smart credit meters. Your supplier may not provide these, or you may face longer wait times
  • SMETS 1 smart meters will lose their smart functionality if you change suppliers
  • While it is rare, sometimes smart meters can malfunction and result in inaccurate readings and bills
  • While smart meters are free to consumers, suppliers need to make up the cost of the rollout from somewhere, and this will be reflected in our bills for years to come

Are smart meters safe in 2021?

Yes. It’s understandable that some energy consumers may worry about potential effects of smart meter transmissions on their health. Those sensitive to Electro Magnetic Frequencies (EMF) may feel uneasy about bringing a smart meter into their home.
Smart meters are, however, subject to extremely stringent product safety standards and have been declared safe by Public Health England who have carried out an extensive peer-reviewed study into the potential health effects of smart meters. Although most smart meters produce very low power-frequency EMFs, the levels of radiation emitted are well within safe limits, and far less than the average mobile phone.

How much energy does a smart meter use?

If you have a smart meter plugged into your mains supply, you may (quite reasonably) worry that it could become an electricity vampire. However, the amount of electricity they use is extremely negligible, and it’s estimated that they use as little as 1kWh of energy per year to run. That’s around 70p to £1 in monetary terms, depending on your supplier.

Switching energy supplier when you have a smart meter

If you have a smart meter, you have a greater level of transparency when it comes to your energy usage. But this is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to lasting energy savings. You should also switch your energy supply regularly to ensure that you get the best possible value for money. Indeed, Ofgem recommends changing suppliers every 12-18 months. This ensures consistently good value while keeping the market competitive and ensuring that energy prices remain low.
If you have a SMETS 2 smart meter or an upgraded SMETS 1 smart meter, you’ll be able to change energy suppliers as many times as you like without losing smart functionality. But which supplier is the best option for your household?
Don’t worry. We’re here to help!
We can scour the market to find the perfect supplier for your home’s needs and usage. We can even manage your switch from end-to-end to bring you cheaper energy quickly and stress-free.
Call the Papernest team today on 0330 818 6225 to find out how much you could save.
We’re available from 9am to 7pm.

Call us to switch your energy supplier for free!

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Notice

FAQ

I have a different supplier for gas and electricity – what do I do?

Some households find that they can get a better deal by choosing separate companies to supply their gas and electricity. If this applies to you, don’t worry. You can still get smart meters installed for both fuels free of charge. However, you will need to book two separate installations. You may also have different generations of meter for your fuels, depending on who supplies them.
It may be worth looking into switching suppliers before installing your smart meters to make the installation quicker and easier while also saving money.

Can my energy be cut off remotely if I have smart meters?

Although it is technically possible for your supplier to shut off your supply remotely through your smart meter, this is extremely unlikely to happen. Suppliers only switch off a customer’s gas or electricity in the most extreme circumstances, and they are legally required to give you 30 days’ notice before shutting off your supply.
Even if you have run up significant energy debts, your supplier will give you every opportunity to establish a repayment plan rather than cutting off your supply.

Do I need an internet connection to use a smart meter?

No. Both generations of smart meters have their own communications hub which makes them fully autonomous. They do not rely on your home’s wireless network or router. As such, you can install a smart meter in your home, even if you have no internet connection.

I'm on Economy 7 or 10 – can I get a smart meter?

Yes, absolutely. Smart meters can be set to dual-rate for those customers that have either Economy 7 or Economy 10 meters. So you can still benefit from cheaper off-peak energy as well as smart functionality. In fact, this pairing can be advantageous in helping you save money on your bills by using less energy during peak hours.

Updated on 24 Jan, 2022

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Alex

Energy Specialist & Copywriter