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Whatever your attitude towards saving energy, chances are that you will soon have a smart meter in your home. They are a huge aspect of government efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the UK: as part of a £11bn scheme, it is hoped that all homes in the country will have a smart meter installed by 2020.

However, reactions to this have been mixed. On the one hand, smart meters have a great deal to offer when it comes to saving money on your gas and electricity usage. By automatically tracking your usage, a smart meter is able to send accurate updates to your electricity/ gas provider, allowing them to offer you more accurate rates. Many installations also come with smart ‘monitors’, which let you monitor and adjust your usage in real time.

On the other hand, there are several lingering questions about the usefulness, reliability and safety of smart meters. Much of this is simply down to a lack of information, but concerns still remain about the disadvantages of installing a smart meter.

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Refusing a smart meter

While the potential advantages of smart meters are fairly well known, some people would prefer to stick with their current meter rather than upgrade. Your electricity/ gas provider will eventually offer you a smart meter as part of the national rollout plan; at this point, if you do not want a smart meter, all you have to do is say no!

If you refuse a smart meter, your provider will still be obligated to provide a high standard of service. For example, they will still send out personnel to take readings. The disadvantage is that you will miss out on the benefits of having a smart meter, such as personalised tariffs.

There are ways to be ‘smart’ with your energy without installing a meter. For example, you could choose to install a smart monitor, which will let you keep track of your usage in real time. Paying attention to and taking charge of your usage is a also tried and tested way to actively make your home more energy efficient, rather than relying on your provider.

Another alternative is to have a smart meter installed and to then ask your provider to disable the ‘smart’ feature. If your supplier has provided you with a free monitor, you can still benefit from the installation in this way, though your usage stats will not be sent to your provider. If necessary, you can always have the smart feature turned back on at a later date.

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What are the disadvantages of installing a smart meter?

An important thing to realise about smart meters is that although they are being rolled out by energy companies, their usage is government regulated. The collection and sharing of data by smart meters is closely monitored and regulated by the Data Communications Company (DCC), which is itself regulated by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem). As such, there are a number of standards which companies are obligated to meet regarding the use of smart meters. 

With that in mind, what are some of the biggest concerns about smart meters?

Is information recorded by smart meters accurate?

  • Because smart meter readings can have a direct impact on energy tariffs, one of the main concerns is over whether or not the readings will be accurate. If the results are too high, for example, you could end up paying even more for your energy. However, it is highly unlikely that a smart meter will lead to a sudden jump in your bills; UK regulations demand a high degree of accuracy in the way that electricity/ gas usage is monitored by smart meters. Your provider will also be aware of your long term usage, which means that a sudden change is bound to be noticed. If this happens, it should be a simple matter to find the cause of the increase; if it does turn out to be the result of a fault, your provider will be obligated to fix the situation and adjust your bill accordingly.

Will my data be kept private?

  • There are strong concerns that the companies collecting data through smart meters will make it available to third parties. This, naturally, is strictly prohibited by UK law: a provider cannot share information collected via a smart meter without express permission, nor can they collect any other data than what is specified to their customers without asking first.

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Will ‘free’ installations will lead to higher tariffs?

  • As part of the national rollout of smart meters, energy providers will offer free installations to each of their customers. It’s natural to want to look a gift horse in the mouth: surely these costs will still have to be paid by customers somehow, right? In truth, the relative cost to individual households would be minimal. You should also consider the potential savings that can come with a smart meter, particularly if you make an active effort to make your home more energy efficient. 

Will a smart meter actually save me money?

  • One of the main arguments against smart meters is that they will not actually save people money, or if they do it will not be any significant amount. While it is true that installing a smart meter will not chop your bills in half, your usage statistics can help your provider to offer accurate deals that will better reflect your needs. The best way to save money with your smart meter, however, will be to pay close attention to your own statistics and alter your habits accordingly. For example, you may choose to increase your home’s energy efficiency by installing loft insulation, or by using more eco-friendly appliances. Actions like this can lead to substantial savings in the long term.

Will having a smart meter make it difficult to switch providers?

  • When an electricity/ gas provider installs a smart meter, the meter itself remains the property of the company, not yours. However, this does not mean that you are tied to your provider. Government regulations state that a provider cannot stop or make it difficult for someone with a smart meter to switch to a competitor. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the features and advantages of one smart meter may not be available if you switch to another.