Don't be DUMB about smart meters: Everything you need to know about the digital energy devices - and how to get one that will keep working

  • The electronic devices automatically send meter readings to your provider 
  • Government believes they will help households reduce energy consumption 
  • The rollout is estimated to cost you an extra £10 a year on your bill 
  • Energy suppliers are struggling to meet government targets 

The deadline to meet smart meter installation targets has been pushed back by four years amid concerns over how energy suppliers have handled the push.

While some customers say they will continue to resist getting a smart meter, others have been happy to do so but then been left with devices that have gone dumbe when they move supplier.

So how can you make sure you stay on the right side of the smart meter rollout? We explain what you need to know: 

Smart meters use a mobile signal to automatically send meter readings to your provider as often as every half an hour, putting an end to estimated bills

Smart meters use a mobile signal to automatically send meter readings to your provider as often as every half an hour, putting an end to estimated bills

So, what EXACTLY is a smart meter?

These new electronic devices use a mobile signal to automatically send meter readings to your provider as often as every half an hour, putting an end to estimated bills. 

Customers are also given a small display monitor which shows how much power they are using in pounds and pence. Your old meter will be taken away, reused or recycled.

...and why are they being rolled out?

The Government believes smart meters will help households reduce their energy consumption, lowering their bills and carbon emissions. 

It is also part of a plan to make the market more efficient and balance the amount of energy being supplied with what is being used.

When must they be installed by?

Initially, the idea was for energy firms to install a smart meter in every home in England, Scotland and Wales by 2020.

Ministers later watered down this proposal so firms only had to ‘offer’ households a new meter by this deadline. 

Now ministers have given firms until 2024 to ensure that at least 85 per cent of their customers have a smart device. 

However, with suppliers struggling to meet government targets, experts predict they may need another ten years to complete the rollout.

If I'm not keen, do I have to get one?

No. Smart meters are not compulsory and you can refuse to get one. However, with energy firms under huge pressure to meet strict deadlines to avoid hefty fines, many have resorted to using bullying tactics on customers. 

Some are bombarding households with calls, texts and emails implying the new meters are a legal requirement, while others are charging those who refuse hundreds of pounds more a year by reserving the best tariffs for smart meter customers only.

Initially, the idea was for energy firms to install a smart meter in every home in England, Scotland and Wales by 2020. Now ministers have given them until 2024

Initially, the idea was for energy firms to install a smart meter in every home in England, Scotland and Wales by 2020. Now ministers have given them until 2024

How much is this going to cost me?

You do not have to pay an upfront fee for a smart meter, but you are still paying for the rollout.

This is because energy suppliers are footing the bill, and in turn are passing this on to customers in the form of higher bills. 

The rollout is estimated to cost £13.5 billion — the equivalent of an extra £10 a year on your bill. But experts predict that costs may rise even further.

But eventually I’ll see lower bills?

Not automatically. The idea is that families will be better able to see where they are using power and take steps to reduce their consumption, lowering their bills. 

The Department of Business, Energy and Strategy estimates households will save £36 a year by 2034.

Can I still switch my supplier?

Yes — but your meter could stop working properly as a result if you have the older model of smart meter known as Smets1. 

You will have to go back to taking manual meter readings and will no longer be able to view your energy usage. You should not experience this problem if you have the newer model of meter, Smets2. 

The Government is also working on a fix so that those with older smart meters will be able to switch hassle-free in the future, but this is long overdue.

What if I have solar panels?

Customers with solar panels have reported issues with smart meters not being able to read the amount of energy generated by the panels. 

This could mean they end up paying more than they should. Others say their supplier is refusing to offer a meter to households with solar panels. 

Smart Energy GB says the issues have been resolved.

Why can’t I get a smart meter?

It is estimated that as many as a third of homes cannot get a smart meter. This might be because customers live in a rural area where the signal is not strong enough. 

Those who live in high-rise flats and properties with thick walls are also likely to be affected.

The idea behind smart meters is that families will be better able to see where they are using power and take steps to reduce their consumption, lowering their bills

The idea behind smart meters is that families will be better able to see where they are using power and take steps to reduce their consumption, lowering their bills

Is there trouble in the North?

You are more likely to get an outdated smart meter if you live in the North, according to autoswitching service Look After My Bills. 

The firm says suppliers blame the disparity on ‘technical difficulties’ and a shortage of newer smart meters in the North, plus a surplus of the old meters.

Why do I still get estimated bills?

Most people pay their bills by monthly direct debit. To work out how much you should pay, suppliers tend to estimate your annual usage in advance and split this into 12 equal payments. 

This means that millions of bills still refer to ‘estimated’ use, even if you have a smart meter that sends out regular readings.

Can I get mine taken away?

Yes — but you may be charged a fee. Small energy supplier Bulb, for example, charges customers £120 to have a smart meter removed. 

Or, you can ask your suppliers to make your meter ‘dumb’ so you can go back to submitting your own readings.

Are there any security risks?

Concerns have been raised about the health and fire risks. All have been heavily refuted by official bodies and appear to be unfounded. 

Experts have also warned of security risks, with large amounts of data being collected by smart meters. If intercepted, they warn burglars, for example, would be able to see when a home is empty. 

However, a Smart Energy GB spokesman says: ‘Security has been at the heart of the whole smart meter rollout programme from its inception, and the system is specifically designed to prevent hacking. 

Smart meters do not use the internet, and have their own closed communications system. 

Smart meters have been designed with top cyber security experts, including the Government and GCHQ, to ensure that security best practice has been incorporated at every stage.’

a.murray@dailymail.co.uk 

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Don't be DUMB about smart meters: Everything you need to know about the new digital devices

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