Smart meters are already transforming the way that we use energy in our homes. The devices, which monitor energy usage in real time, are intended to cut down on wasted energy, along with wasted money: by monitoring your usage, it is claimed that energy companies will be able to offer cheaper and more bespoke rates.
Having said that, there is still a fair amount of confusion surrounding smart meters: what exactly are they? How are they installed? Most importantly, many people are asking exactly what kind of data the meters can extract, and whether they should be worried. The government intends to make smart meters available to every property in the UK by 2020, and suppliers are already rushing to push them out.
The truth is that smart meters offer a number of advantages which are just as beneficial for a home as they are for an energy supplier. However, it is still useful to understand exactly what they are built for, how they can benefit you and what your rights will be if you get one installed in your home.
Smart meter installation is usually handled by a qualified electrician on behalf of an energy provider. You will not have to pay for this, and the meter itself will have to comply with standards set by the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) and the Data Communications Company (DCC).
Having said that, it can also be useful to learn more about your home’s energy efficiency before having a meter installed. If your EPC is out of date, you may want to hire an energy assessor to provide a new energy performance certificate for your property. They may recommend ways to reduce the amount you spend on energy, such as loft insulation.
Whether or not you ‘need’ a smart meter really depends on how you look at things. The government aims to make them available for all homes by 2020, while major providers such as British Gas, SSE, E.ON, Scottish Power and Utilita are already letting customers book meter installations.
There are a number of advantages to installing a smart meter:
Another important purpose of smart meters is to create a ‘smart grid’ in order to provide UK households with reliable, cheap and, most importantly, clean energy.
It is not mandatory to have a smart meter installed and your supplier will not be allowed to force one on you. If you do choose not to have a meter, your supplier will still be obligated to perform their service to a high standard, including standard reading callouts.
There are alternatives to getting a smart meter that will still allow you to regulate your energy usage. For example, many meters also come with ‘smart monitors’ that allow you to easily check how much energy your home uses. These are actually fairly simple to install, will work without a smart meter, and can be bought for around £40. Certain energy suppliers will only provide monitors for customers on specific tariffs, and so it can be worth looking at the cost of your own monitor before you switch to a more expensive deal.
However, outright refusing a smart meter can rob you of the benefits. If your supplier cannot monitor your usage, they may not be able to provide personalised services or tariffs for your property.
Another option is to have a meter installed, and then ask your supplier to disable the ‘smart’ function. This will stop your data and usage information from being automatically sent to them, and you can always have it turned back on at a later date.
If the utilities for your property are in your name, then you will likely have been contacted by your supplier regarding a smart meter installation service. Alternatively, you can contact your supplier directly. Remember, this is a free service that is being rolled out nationwide!
One thing to keep in mind is that although the installation service should be free of charge, the meter itself will still be owned by your energy company. Because of this, you should take care not to cause any damage to it, or you could be forced to pay for a replacement.
The actual installation will be performed by a qualified electrician employed by your supplier. It should not take more than two hours, though your installer will have to turn off your utilities for around 30 minutes in order to complete the work.
The question of privacy has caused a lot of contention around smart meters. Many are worried that suppliers will sell their information to third parties, or collect additional information without consent. Although companies have defended themselves, there are several campaigns for deeper regulations regarding smart meters, and even conspiracy theories!
The collection and sharing of data is closely regulated by the DCC, which works under the government-appointed regulator, Ofgem. As a result, energy suppliers are subject to a number of strict rules:
As we mentioned earlier, you can also ask your supplier to turn off the smart functions on your meter, or to refuse your installation and opt for your own monitor instead.