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Mouthy Money’s regular contributor, Nick Daws, offers his experience of smart meters and why he still recommends them.
Energy bills are a hot topic at the moment (pun definitely intended).
So today I thought I’d discuss one way you may be able to help keep them under control.
Of course, I’m talking about smart meters. These have been rolled out by the energy companies over the last few years at the behest of the government.
They provide a real-time display of how much gas and electricity you’re using and submit readings automatically to your energy company. As a consumer it’s free to have them installed.
My experience of smart meters
About three years ago, when I was getting my gas and electricity from British Gas, I had a smart meter fitted.
All went well for six months, then I switched to EDF and the smart meter stopped working. I didn’t get any useful information from it and had to revert to sending in meter readings myself. I unplugged the display and almost forgot about it.
Then in March this year – despite getting no notification – my smart meter started working again. I only knew because I logged into my EDF account and data from the meter was showing there. Luckily I was able to find the display unit again. I plugged it in and after a few seconds it reconnected and started showing me useful figures once more. It’s fair to say I was surprised!
So if you’re in my position and your meter stopped working after you changed supplier, I definitely recommend checking and trying again now. But if you still don’t have a smart meter, I do think it’s a good idea to get one if you can. I’ll explain why in more detail below…
Why I still recommend smart meters
Here are some of the obvious advantages of having a smart meter.
- No more estimated bills.
- No need to arrange for meter readers to gain access (or submit readings yourself).
- There may be cheaper, smart-meter-only tariffs you can switch to (though not so much at the moment).
- With the aid of the in-home display you can check how much energy you are using at any time, helping you see where you can make savings.
Depending on your circumstances there may be other benefits too.
To give you a couple of examples, one day I noticed from the smart meter that I was using more electricity than I would have expected. After searching the house, I discovered I’d left an electric fire switched on.
If it hadn’t been for the meter I’m not sure how long it would have been before I noticed this. And obviously, as well as the cost, having it on with nobody there could have been a fire risk.
I’ve also found my smart meter good as a reminder of how much electricity certain items in the kitchen (and elsewhere) use. In particular, I have an electric oven which puts the meter into the amber or even red zone in pretty short order.
So nowadays I am making more use of my microwave and an air fryer I got a few months ago, as both use less power over a shorter period. Of course I should have known this anyway, but a smart meter really brings it home to you.
What are the drawbacks?
One possible objection to smart meters is that they may encourage a miserly attitude to energy use and cause friction within couples and families.
A female friend refused point blank to have a smart meter installed because (rightly or wrongly) she feared her husband would turn into an ‘energy fascist’, constantly turning down the heating and switching off lights to save money. That is obviously an issue every couple needs to negotiate for themselves!
Also, you do occasionally hear stories about smart meters giving the wrong readings (though as the technology improves, I’m hearing this less often). But it obviously makes sense to keep an eye on the figures your meter is showing and if they look wrong take it up with the energy company.
Other benefits of smart meters
As mentioned above, when energy markets return to a more normal state, cheaper smart-meter-only tariffs may become more widespread. And on the other side of the coin, people who refuse to have smart meters installed may end up being charged more.
In addition, with the help of their smart meters, people who generate their own power (e.g. with solar panels) may be able to sell their surplus energy back to the grid, thus recouping some of their costs.
There are also some innovative schemes for EV (electric vehicle) owners. Recently, Octopus Energy announced a new tariff called OctopusGo. This allows people who own (or lease) electric cars to charge them at a much cheaper rate between 00:30 and 04:30 every night. Again, a modern smart meter is required for this.
All things considered, then, I do recommend getting a smart meter, especially in the current cost of living crisis. Mine is definitely helping me reduce my energy bills and ensure they are more accurate.
Obviously this is a decision everyone needs to make for themselves, but I think for most people the benefits outweigh any possible drawbacks. And if they help cut overall energy consumption, that has to be good for the planet as well.
That’s my view anyway, but what do you think? Please leave any comments below as usual.
Nick Daws writes for Pounds and Sense, a UK personal finance blog aimed especially (though not exclusively) at over-fifties.
Nick Daws is a semi-retired freelance writer and editor. He is the author of over 30 non-fiction books, including Start Your Own Home-Based Business and The Internet for Writers. He lives in Burntwood, Staffordshire, where he has been running his personal finance blog at Poundsandsense.com for over seven years.