Smart meters explained

In 2016, energy suppliers began to roll out smart meters in the UK. The original target was to install them in every home and small business by 2020. Between 2016 and 2018, energy suppliers installed around 8.6 million SMETS1 meters.

The shift to SMETS2 meters began in 2018. As of March 15th 2019, suppliers will only be allowed to install SMETS2 meters.

SMETS1 meters

SMETS stands for ‘Smart Meter Equipment Technical Specifications’, which is why you don’t hear the full name very often. It’s not catchy. SMETS1 meters are the first generation of smart meters. They send meter readings over the 3G network, however, they only send meter reads to the supplier who put the meter in. This means that if you switch suppliers, your meter becomes a dumb meter, and you’re back to sending meter reads.

SMETS2 meters

These are the second generation, more intelligent smart meters that aren’t tied to a particular supplier. They send data through the Wide Area Network (WAN). This is a closed and encrypted network that is not connected to the internet. It communicates directly with the Data Collection Company (DCC) that the government set up for just this purpose. As your data is encrypted, the DCC can’t see it. All they can do is to pass it on to your supplier. If you decide to switch, the DCC can then share your data with your new supplier, meaning you don’t have to send any meter readings. Most importantly, your smart meter will stay smart with your new supplier.

What to do if you have a SMETS1 meter

The good news is that you don’t have to do anything. That’s because the plan is for SMETS1 meters to be included in the SMETS2 programme through a process called ‘adoption and enrolment‘. This means that SMETS1 meters will join the DCC network alongside SMETS2 meters. Once your SMETS1 meter is part of that network, it will stay smart even when you switch.

The plan is for this upgrade to happen between November 2018 and June 2019, although there is a risk that the timescales will slip.

Benefits of smart meters

Information about smart meters usually highlights the fact that once you’ve got one, it will automatically send electricity meter readings to your supplier. So, the benefits are:

  • You save on a task
  • Your supplier gets accurate and up to date reads
  • Estimated bills are a thing of the past.

As a secondary benefit, the data that smart meters collect can help you save money. If you have a smart meter for your business, and you also have online account management, then it’s likely you can see your business electricity use reports. Reviewing your business’ energy use can help you spot problems in the form of a sudden spike or drop in energy use. Either of those could mean that some equipment isn’t working properly.

With the SMETS2 meters rollout, different suppliers can access your energy use data more easily. The DCC hold the data, but they can’t read it because it’s encrypted. However, they can share it with suppliers when you’ve given your permission. For example, if you decide to switch energy suppliers, the DCC can share your data with your new chosen supplier. You won’t have to send any meter reads and you can switch more quickly.

Smart meters are a step forward towards the UK smart grid and they’re free. The existing charges in your electricity bill cover the cost, in the same way as they pay for non-smart meters.

It takes about 60-90 minutes to install a smart meter and you’ll have to switch your electricity off while the engineer installs the meter. But that’s it.

More information about business smart meters

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