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Guide to energy meters

energy meter

This guide is intended to provide general guidance only. It is not intended to give you advice on your personal financial circumstances. You should seek independent professional advice if you’re unsure about anything mentioned in this guide or what choices to make

Every energy meter has three elements, one from each of these pairs:

  • Gas or electricity.
  • Traditional or smart.
  • Credit or prepayment.

So you could have a traditional gas prepayment meter, or a smart electricity credit meter, or any combination of electric meter types or gas meter types from these three elements.

Gas or electricity meters

Most homes in the UK will have both gas and electricity meters. However, if your home isn’t on mains gas, you’ll only have an electric meter.

Even if you’ve got a dual fuel contract, you’ll always have separate gas and electric meters.

Electricity meters measure the amount of electricity that’s coming into your home to replace the electricity you’re using. They then show that electricity use in kilowatt hours (kWh). If there’s a power cut, or for some reason the voltage falls and the lights dim in your home, this will slow down the motor in your meter, so it will register that less power is being delivered – and reduce your charges as well.

How does a gas meter work? In much the same way. They measure the amount of gas that flows into your home, and show it as either cubic metres (M or M³) or cubic feet (Ft or ft³). However, the price may be shown as per kWh.

Traditional or smart meters

Traditional or standard meters are the old kind of meters that you still find in most homes in the UK. They measure the amount of energy you use, and show it in a dial or display on the front of the meter.

Smart meters are multi-functional, and the government wants every home in the UK to have one by 2020.

Smart meters record how much gas and/or electricity you’re using, in real time, and send information directly to your energy supplier, using the same kind of signals and networks as a mobile phone. Your energy provider then uses that data to make sure your bills are always accurate and up to date.

A smart meter can also give you information about your energy use, to help you cut back and save money.

Smart electric meters are smarter than smart gas meters. Smart gas meters measure the amount of gas you’re using, and then pass it on to their linked electricity meter, using a Home Area Network. However, the electricity meter has a SIM card that allows it to access a Wide Area Network, so it can share the information about both your gas and electricity use with your energy provider.

Check our guide on how to get a smart meter and find out their benefits for you. 

If you have any other questions around smart meters, read our comprehensive FAQ Smart meters page to find all the answers you may need.

Credit meter vs prepayment meters

Credit meters simply measure how much energy you’re using, and your energy company will base your bill on that information. These meters may provide other data, but you can’t use them to pay for your gas or electricity before you use it.

Prepayment meters are not just a record of your energy use; they’re also the way you pay for it in advance. In the old days, that meant feeding coins into the slot. Nowadays it can be anything from inserting a top-up card into your meter to adding credit via an app on your mobile phone.

Are prepayment meters more expensive? They can be, as prepayment (or Pay as you go) plans tend to involve greater admin costs for energy providers, so they have to charge slightly higher rates for these plans. Before you opt for a prepayment plan, check out the exact costs, and compare them with the alternatives, to make sure you choose the plan that’s best for you.

Now let’s look at how these elements combine to create different meter types

We’ve included pictures of typical meters in these sections, but there are many different meter designs, so please don’t worry if yours doesn't look exactly like the ones in the photos.

Traditional credit meters

This type of meter:

  • Does record your energy use.
  • Doesn’t communicate it remotely to your energy supplier.
  • Isn’t a way of paying for your energy as you use it.

With some energy providers, if you have a traditional credit meter you you have to give regular meter readings (this can be anything from monthly to every six months). This lets the supplier keep track of your energy use, bill you based on your readings, and make sure your monthly payments are on track to cover your energy use over the year.

If you’re reading a standard electricity meter, just take the first five numbers shown from left to right. If there’s a red number on the far right, ignore it.

Traditional prepayment meters

This type of meter:

  • Does record your energy use.
  • Doesn’t communicate it remotely to your energy supplier.
  • Does let you pay for your energy as you use it.

With traditional prepayment meters, you’ll be given a key for your electric meter and a card for your gas meter. You simply take them to any PayPoint shop or outlet, and pay to top them up. When you get home, you insert the key and card into the meter and the credit is transferred to your energy account.

If you’re an OVO customer with a traditional prepayment meter, you can still get lots of information from your meter, even though it’s not smart. The meter display can tell you:

  • How much credit you’ve got left.
  • Your standing charge.
  • How much debt you’re repaying each week – or how much was taken out of your last top-up.
  • If you’re in debt to us, the amount you still owe.
  • The price you’re paying for your gas and electricity.
  • The amount of emergency credit available in your meter.

Smart credit meters

This type of meter:

  • Does record your energy use.
  • Does communicate it remotely to your energy supplier.
  • Isn’t a way of paying for your energy as you use it.

Once you have a smart meter, you no longer need to send your energy company any meter readings, as the smart meter does that remotely. If you’re an OVO customer, you can choose how often it sends us readings: half-hourly, daily or monthly.

And if you’re an OVO customer having a new smart credit meter installed, we’ll give you an In-Home Display (IHD) – a nifty little device with a screen that shows you all kinds of useful information. For example, it lets you keep an eye on the amount of energy you’re using, what you’re spending, and even how much CO2 equivalent.

Smart prepayment meters

This type of meter:

  • Does record your energy use.
  • Does communicate it remotely to your energy supplier.
  • Does let you pay for your energy in advance.

A smart prepayment meter makes it much easier to pay for your gas and electricity. You can still take your card to a PayPoint outlet and top it up there. However, you don’t then need to take it home and insert it in the meter. Instead, it communicates with your meter remotely and adds the credit straight away.

And if you’ve got a bank card, you don’t even need to go to a PayPoint shop. You can top up anywhere, any time – by app, text, or online. Just select the amount of credit you want to add, and give your card details to pay for it.

If you’re an Boost Smart PAYG+ customer you can use smart technology and our OVO Energy app to:

Check how long you’ve got until you next need to top up.

Set up regular card payments to top up automatically online.

Set the system to make payments when your credit falls to a chosen level, so you never run out unexpectedly.

Set email or text alerts for when your credit is running low.

Economy 7 and Economy 10 meters

If you’re on an Economy 7 or Economy 10 tariff, you’ll need a special electricity meter.

Economy 7 and Economy 10 meters are types of electricity meter that are programmed to charge you less at off-peak times (usually overnight). They can be traditional credit meters, traditional prepayment, smart credit or smart repayment.

The traditional Economy versions are different from normal traditional meters as they show two separate figures: one for your peak-time use and one for off-peak hours.

Smart Economy meters have an electronic display that cycles through two reads to give the peak and off-peak figures.


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