How to get a smart meter UK: installation process and how it works explained - does it help with energy bills?

Energy bills have been a major factor behind the cost of living crisis. But could a smart meter save you money?
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The UK is in the grip of its worst cost of living crisis in 40 years, with energy bills driving much of the financial pain for households.

As a result of the war in Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to weaponise Russia’s vast energy supplies, energy prices have been rocketing across Europe. There are also fears that a lack of supply could lead to blackouts this winter.

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In a bid to ease the pressure on UK households, the government has introduced several support measures. Foremost among these is Liz Truss’s energy price guarantee that - while having been scaled back by Jeremy Hunt - has significantly lowered the cost of energy from what it would have been had the October Ofgem price cap rise gone ahead.

Meanwhile, National Grid ESO - the operator of the UK’s electricity network - has introduced a discounted rate for homes who move their energy usage away from peak times. As well as saving people money, it is also hoped the scheme will lower the chances of energy supplies running out.

But if you want to take part in this scheme, you will require a smart meter. So, how do you go about getting one? Here’s what you need to know.

Smart meters can save you money and work out how to improve your energy efficiency (image: AFP/Getty Images)Smart meters can save you money and work out how to improve your energy efficiency (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Smart meters can save you money and work out how to improve your energy efficiency (image: AFP/Getty Images)

How to get a smart meter

First things first, everyone in England, Scotland and Wales who hasn’t already got one should be offered a smart meter at some point in the near-future. The government has a target requiring all energy suppliers to offer them out nationwide by the end of 2025 - although NationalWorld data analysis has found they are unlikely to achieve this goal.

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At present, the main reason you could be turned down for a smart meter is if you live in an area with poor signal. Some suppliers, namely British Gas, Scottish Power and Shell, will also reject smart meter requests from economy 7 users.

Getting a smart meter installed is free. All you need to do is ask your supplier to get you an appointment and they will send an engineer out for free to install it - usually within a month. You can do this even if you’ve previously rejected having a smart meter installed.

How do smart meters work?

Smart meters show you how much energy you’re using, how much it costs you and what your energy provider’s charges are in real time. They also directly communicate your usage to your supplier every 30 minutes.

There are two types of smart meter on the market - SMETS 1 and SMETS 2. While they work in slightly different ways, the principle behind them is the same.

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For the approximately eight million households with a SMETS 1 (which was the first generation of smart meter to be rolled out), the meter works by using the 3G network to talk to your supplier.

Smart meters communicate directly with your energy provider (image: AFP/Getty Images)Smart meters communicate directly with your energy provider (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Smart meters communicate directly with your energy provider (image: AFP/Getty Images)

However, if you switch supplier, these meters tend to be unable to communicate with the new provider, meaning you’ll have to submit readings again. These are no longer being rolled out.

If you’re in one of the roughly 11 million homes with a SMETS 2, your meter will work by using its own communications system that feeds into a central data network which is used by all suppliers. So, if you opt to switch, your new supplier will be able to pick your account up straightaway.

How can smart meters help with energy bills?

Smart meters are generally a good thing to have. They allow you to access a wider range of tariffs, some of which could be cheaper. For example, National Grid ESO’s off-peak energy scheme is only available to those with smart meters and means you could save up to £100 this winter by moving your energy usage outside of peak times.

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The meters also allow you to see when you’re using energy and work out ways of being more efficient - something which can also reduce your bills.

If you’re a pay as you go customer, a smart meter lets you top up without having to go to a shop and allows automatic top ups so you never have power outages arising from running out of credit.

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