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The pros and cons of a smart meter

Should you get a smart meter installed in your home?

Over 10 million homes in the UK are now fitted with a smart meter, replacing the analogue gas and electricity meters. The government has targeted utility companies with offering all homes a smart meter by 2020 so they’re currently approaching customers and offering them one for free but, at the moment, the scheme is optional so you can choose to decline.

Opinion is divided on them so should you get one? We take an impartial look at the pros and cons of smart meters so you can make an informed choice.

What is a smart meter?

A smart meter records usage of gas and electricity just as an analogue meter does but because it is linked to your energy supplier via the mobile network, it shares data directly with them. It also provides you with more detailed usage data via a portable display unit that you can keep anywhere in the house.

The pros of smart meters

  • No more meter readings. Smart meters connect to your utility company via a mobile network using a SIM card meaning that data is continually transmitted to them for billing purposes so no need for you to read the meter or for a meter reader to attend your home
  • You receive more accurate bills. Because your bills will always be based on real time data they don’t rely on estimated readings which can lead to you being undercharged or overcharged, neither of which are desirable
  • Access to data that can help you manage your usage better. A portable display unit allows you to see what energy you’re using which therefore enables you to modify your behaviour and use it more efficiently (seeing how much you’re using in monetary terms every time you boil the kettle will make you reconsider filling it up to the top every time!). Obviously, better efficiencies lead to lower bills
  • Good for managing a prepaid meter. If you have a prepaid meter you can see easily how much credit you have and receive alerts when you’re running low
  • With accurate data you can check your usage against national averages. This may well highlight that you have some kind of issue such as a boiler fault that's making you use too much energy. You can then take action to resolve it
  • Currently the installation of smart meters is being offered for free, though the cost of this to energy providers will be factored into every customer’s bills. Therefore you are paying for a smart meter even if you don’t opt to have one

The cons of smart meters

  • Most smart meters are not transferrable between energy providers. They will continue to measure usage and to provide the data to your portable display unit but they won’t feed the data through to your supplier if you swap, meaning that you would still need to provide meter readings. Therefore, if you are a savvy consumer who shops around every year it’s worth bearing this in mind
  • You are sharing a lot of data. You may be happy with this, you may not. The data that the smart meter sends to your provider can allow them to form a very detailed picture of how you use energy. Some people may find this a little intrusive and it may give providers information that allows them to target you with advertising (though you can opt out of this)
  • You can only reduce your bills if you actively use the data provided to change the way you do things. You will therefore need to put some effort in to implement efficiencies. If you’re not likely to do this, you’re not really getting the full benefit of having one. Also, the data can be difficult to interpret if you’re not familiar with it
  • Data transfer is reliant on the mobile network so if you live in an area with a poor signal you may find it’s not as accurate as you might expect
  • Once you have one you can’t revert back to an analogue meter. There’s no going back to an old style meter so you need to be pretty sure that it’s right for you
  • Smart meters are still relatively new technology as is the installation of them. There were reports of issues arising from installations initially due to lack of experience and proper training. Now that they have been around a little longer this is less likely to happen but not impossible

Is a smart meter suitable for you?

That is really your choice, dependant on how you feel about all the considerations outlined above. If you like to be in control of things and are a fan of smart technology then it’s probably a good idea for you. If you like protect your privacy, you switch providers every year and you’re happy to continue providing your own readings then maybe think twice.

Do you have one? Do you find it useful? Are you not like the idea of one? We’d love to know what you think. Let us know over on our Facebook page.

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