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A Guide to Smart Meters

Smart meters are currently being rolled out into all UK homes, with the aim of each household having one by 2020. However, many of us still have questions about them and some are unclear as to whether they’re going to be as beneficial as we’re told.

A smart energy meter is the next generation of gas and electric meters and will provide a multitude of functions that should make energy bills far more clear and accurate. They are digitally connected, which means they can communicate with your energy supplier directly so no-one has to come to your home to carry out meter readings.

They also spell the end of those dreaded estimated bills and provide you with a data screen which will detail how much energy you are consuming. This will allow you to keep track of your expenditure so there aren’t any nasty surprises when your gas and electric bills arrive.

What savings can be made with a smart meter?

The government anticipates that with the increased awareness of how much you are spending as you go along, it will help you to cut down the costs of your energy bills. They expect that by 2020, most users will have knocked around £26 a year off their energy bills, which they hope will increase to £43 by 2030.

These savings aren’t as great as the ones you can receive by changing energy suppliers but having a smart meter can help you to do this too as it will make the processes far quicker and much more accurate.

Furthermore, as there won’t be any costs for energy suppliers to visit properties to gain readings, they are going to be saving money, which in turn should be passed onto their customers, potentially reducing pricing too.

What are the concerns surrounding smart meters?

As with any new technology, there have been a number of things that some consumers have been concerned about:

Health: Concerns were raised that, like satellite TV, Wi-Fi and mobile phones emit low-frequency radio waves, these devices will too and that they could be harmful to people who are sensitive to electromagnetic fields.

The research involved in smart meters has been going on for ten years and the government has put all of the necessary procedures in place to make sure they are safe and don’t have any negative health impacts. All of the smart meters are covered by EU and UK safety legislation, which details that all manufacturers have to make certain that they are safe.

Privacy: Apart from the use of data for billing and regulatory purposes, you have the choice as to how your energy data is used.

All suppliers have an obligation to keep your readings secure, with various encryptions and measures in place to ensure your figures are safe at all times. It is your choice as to whether you share the information with third parties like comparison websites you may use when looking at changing suppliers. As of this year, third parties can remotely access your smart meter if you have authorised them to.

Noise: To start with, there were some customers who complained of noises coming from their smart meters. However, with all of them now using the same technology as you will find in your tablets and mobile devices, they won’t emit any sounds at all.

Switching Suppliers: There is no issue changing suppliers once you’ve had a smart meter installed by one supplier. In fact, it should be easier to switch over as all of your data is now digital. The only potential problems arise if the supplier you are moving to hasn’t advanced their technologies as much as your previous supplier. If this is the case, it may mean that your new supplier won’t be able to operate the smart meter until their systems have been updated, but they are never allowed to downgrade your meter, they are only allowed to replace it with a more advanced one.

Costs: Whilst there are no upfront costs to having a smart meter installed in your home, these meters aren’t free. Instead, the cost of the meter and the maintenance of this will be added onto your energy bill.

The DECC has suggested that the rolling out of smart meters is going to cost £11billion with at least £3 a year already being added onto consumers bills to cover these costs. Recent studies conducted by the European Commission have also stated that the expected cost for each individual customer will be on average £158 to £198 in total.

It is important to note that refusing to have a smart meter install will not reduce your energy bills.

Prepayment Customers: If you’re on a prepayment or credit mode, a smart meter will work with these methods too. There are some benefits to this, including more flexible ways of topping up and options when you run out of credit at night and can’t top up – your energy supplier will be able to go through the available possibilities with you.

Solar PV: If you have solar panels installed in your home or any other types of renewable energy it is advisable to speak to your energy supplier first as many smart meters aren’t thought to be compatible with these systems.

There are several benefits to be had with the smart meter systems, mainly the cost-saving advantages of being able to track your spend on a daily basis and the riddance of manual meter readings. However, there are some concerns as to the longevity of these systems as many continue to look at renewable forms of energy, which aren’t currently compatible with many of these smart meters.

Do you have a smart meter installed in your home? What have energy suppliers told you about smart meters if you have Solar PV installed?

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