✔ Smart meters use accurate readings to make your energy bills lower
✔ The UK government is currently deploying a nationwide rollout of smart meters
✔ The second generation of smart meters are solar panel compatible
We’re finally in the ‘20s. People back in the 20th century would have looked forward to today, predicting hoverboards, pocket-sized whales, and Martian colonies. And while we aren’t quite there yet, we do still have some cool cutting edge stuff. We’re here to talk about one such invention – the smart meter.
A smart meter might not be as flashy or sexy as a flying car, but it’s still a step towards a cheaper home and a better future. When coupled with solar panels, a smart meter can save you a substantial amount of money on your energy bills – and there’s nothing sexier than savings!
As a part of a plan to push the country towards being more environmental, the UK government is working on an initiative to install a smart meter in every willing home and business by 2021. To see if you can help them with this incredibly ambitious mission, read on!
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What are the pros and cons of smart meters?
So what are the reasons to get a smart meter, and what are the reasons to hold back?
- Saves money
- Installation is free
- Won’t interfere with solar panels
- You may have to wait for eligibility
- Poor signal may make your meter “dumb”
How do smart meters work?
Or, an even better question – what are smart meters? If you aren’t surrounded by the world of home energy, you may have never heard of a smart meter, so this question is a rational one.
If you use a normal energy meter, you may have taken a glance amidst a moment of curiosity or sheer boredom, only to find that the display is full of confusing numbers and units. Is 3.5 kW a lot? Is a current of 4A not enough? What’s the difference between power and energy? And how can I tell if any of this is affecting my bank account?
The industry eventually realised this was not the best way for people to monitor their energy usage, and smart meters were invented. These new systems have a wide range of benefits, like being able to actively manage your energy usage, as well as measure energy used in pounds sterling (£) – the only unit anyone really cares about.
The biggest boon of smart meters, however, is the way they send your energy usage to your energy company. It might surprise you to know, but energy bills are usually educated estimates. Obviously these estimates are never too far off your actual usage, but energy companies usually give themselves some wiggle room.
The smart meter precisely measures your gas and electricity readings, and sends them to your supplier directly over a wireless network. This means you pay what you owe down to the penny, and don’t have to worry about being swindled.
How do I get a smart meter?
The UK government is heavily pushing the concept of smart meters. They’ve started a nationwide rollout, with the initial goal of having a smart meter in every UK household by the end of 2020 – this has now been extended to the end of 2021. While they are being endorsed by the government, there is no legal obligation to install one if you don’t want one.
The method of getting a smart meter installed depends heavily on your energy supplier, and where you’re located. Since the goal is to install one in every UK home, the mission is being addressed systematically. That means you may simply have to wait for your opportunity to arise. To check if your house is eligible for a smart meter, you can use this website to see if your provider is supplying smart meters to your area.According to the government page on smart meters: “You will not be charged separately for a smart meter or for the In-Home Display. Under current arrangements, you pay for the cost of your meter and its maintenance through your energy bills, and this will be the same for smart meters.”
The best part is, once you’re eligible for installation, the installation process is done for free.
Smart meters and mobile networks
One of the most commonly cited flaws people have with smart meters is that they rely heavily on mobile networks. This means that if you live in a spot with less-than-stellar mobile coverage, the smart meter can lose the capability to send accurate energy usage rates to your provider. If this happens, your bill will go back to being an estimate, meaning you may spend more than you need to.
We listed this in the cons column, but that isn’t really fair. While this can happen, and is certainly unfortunate, all this means is that your smart meter becomes a regular meter again. If the worst thing that can happen to your meter is that it reverts back to doing what it did before, then it’s still probably worth getting one installed.
Can smart meters work with solar panels?
It was previously the case that some smart meters were not compatible with solar panels, but the new generation of smart meter (being rolled out across the country) – known as the SMETS2 – is compatible with all solar panels.
If you already have a smart meter installed and it’s a first-generation model (the SMETS1), you may encounter compatibility problems with your solar panels. This is because, during the SMETS1 roll-out, energy providers weren’t feeling very communicative, and they each used different technologies.
Before the roll-out deadline on 31st December 2021, you should be entitled to a free upgrade from a SMETS1 to a SMETS2.
The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)
After the conclusion of the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) in April 2019, the UK government announced the launch of the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) – which began on 1st January 2020.
The SEG requires all electricity supply companies (with 150,000+ customers) to provide an ‘export tariff’ to households for each unit of electricity they send to the grid. Smaller companies aren’t obliged to get involved, but they can if they want.
The SEG scheme allows companies to decide their own rates, as long as it's more than zero – currently, you can get between 2-5.6p per kWh.
Households receiving payments from the Feed-in Tariff are not eligible for the SEG, but they can switch from the FiT to the SEG if they want to.
The SEG and smart meters
So where do smart meters come into this?
Well, when the old Export Tariff was in place (as part of the Feed-in Tariff scheme), households were never paid accurately for the electricity they sent to the grid.
Instead, the government relied on an estimate, and paid households for just 50% of their unused solar-generated electricity – even if households were exporting as much as 80% to the grid.
However, the SEG pays households much more fairly and accurately – thanks to smart meters. With a smart meter installed, a household will be able to tell its energy supplier exactly how many kilowatt hours (kWh) it’s sending to the grid.
Most smart meters will make a recording of your electricity exports on a half-hourly basis, allowing suppliers to adjust their rates based on nationwide demand.
The smart meter roll-out
Beginning in November 2016, the UK-wide ‘smart meter roll-out’ was set up by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Ambitiously, it aims aim to have a smart meter installed in every home across the country.
The government is hoping to have the programme completed by the end of 2021, but this is looking increasingly unlikely. Just 13.8 million smart meters have been installed so far – less than halfway through the 53 million total.
Nevertheless, it will provide a much-needed update to the UK’s energy infrastructure. Back in 2013, the government estimated that the total benefit of the smart meter roll-out will be around £17.7bn – not too shabby.
The smart choice
When it comes to the choice between getting a smart meter or sticking with your current system, the choice is really quite simple. The cost is factored into your energy bill, installation takes only a brief time, they save you money, and in the worst-case scenario, all that will happen is the meter reverting to a standard “dumb” energy meter.
If you have a smart meter and your concerns regarding solar panel compatibility have been assuaged, then use this form to get a quote for professional solar panel installation from one of our partners.