What is a smart meter and how it all works to help you save money?

12 August 2020 | Matt Mostyn

Now more than ever, we’re all looking for ways to better understand how to reduce the amount of energy we waste. 

Smart meters are one clever solution to help us do exactly that. And given the current need to better address the world’s climate change problems, that makes smart meters a total game-changer!

But what actually is a smart meter? How do they work? In this article, we’ll explore some of the main issues, talk a bit of science and bust some myths.

What is a smart meter?

A smart meter is a digital gas or electricity meter that communicates with your energy supplier so they can receive your readings automatically. That means you’ll never need to submit a meter reading again.

How do smart meters work?

Smart meters communicate through two wireless networks: the HAN (home area network) and WAN (wide area network). 

All about HAN

The HAN is a secure network that works in much the same way as the wireless systems that link the devices in our homes (for instance, how computers link with printers). 

A smart gas meter uses HAN to send information to its paired electricity meter. Essentially, HAN lets smart meters communicate with any other devices or computers they’ve been linked to, so long as they’re within range.

All about WAN

The WAN (wide area network) is like the networks used by mobile phones. In a nutshell, smart meters use WAN to send the data your energy company needs to create those much-favoured fully accurate (as opposed to estimated) bills.

The WAN also lets you see your energy use in your online account – and if you share half-hourly data with your supplier, you’ll be able to see exactly what you've used and when. That’s incredibly useful for helping you to understand and be more in control of your energy use at home.

Are smart meters more accurate?

Most definitely! Having a smart meter means you won’t get any more estimated bills, as your supplier will know how much energy you’re using. 

How can smart meters help save money?

smart meter benefits

A smart meter helps you to keep an eye on your energy use. It lets you see where you could be wasting energy (and money), so you can use that information to change your behaviours and energy use. That in turn helps you to cut your costs, which should help lead to lower bills. 

Because smart meters also come with an In-Home Display (IHD), you’ll also be able to instantly see how much of a difference it makes whenever you switch on a hairdryer or boil the kettle for a cuppa.

What are some of the other benefits of smart meters for our energy supply?

The nationwide installation of smart meters also helps to shift us away from standard electricity grids towards 'smart grids'. By using digital technology to better predict how much electricity we need at any one time, we can do a better job of matching supply with demand.  Which doesn’t sound that exciting, but it’s a big part of the move towards zero carbon

As we use more and more electricity (thanks to our ever-increasing reliance on phones, laptops, gadgets, electric cars etc), we put more stress on the system than ever before. But with automatic readings, the infrastructure can better identify any power cuts or performance issues, and be more responsive to cope with renewables and electric vehicles. 

Smart meters are one positive step towards helping us upgrade our systems so they’re better suited for the future. But smart network benefits depend on a critical mass of SMETS2 meters being installed. The more of us that have a smart meter, the greater the benefits, says both Ofgem (the UK’s energy regulator) and the government.

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

Should I get a smart meter?

We might be a little biased here – being an energy company that cares about the environment – but we can only give smart meters a great big thumbs up! 

From helping you waste less energy to helping you fight the climate crisis, here’s a handy reminder of the main reasons for getting yourself a smart meter, if you haven’t already jumped on board.

Find out more about the differences between smart meters and energy monitors.

How do I get a smart meter?

If you’re already an OVO member, getting a smart meter installed is very straightforward. Simply book an appointment, and we’ll start the ball rolling. Read more about the process here.

If you’re not yet with OVO, check out our new lowest-rate plan, which is also powered by a smart meter. 

And if you’re not yet sure of the many reasons why it’s worth joining us, allow us to convince you!

Book a free smart meter appointment

Are smart meters compulsory?

The government wants all homes to have smart meters by 2024. Although energy suppliers are obliged to offer smart meters to all their customers, you don't have to accept an installation. Having said that, there may well soon be a law in place that says all homes should have smart meters.

Also, be aware that regulators are allowing suppliers to charge more if you have a traditional, rather than a smart meter, as old meters are more costly, and less efficient for the energy grid. So we really recommend that you get one!

If you have any concerns or issues that prevent you from getting a smart meter, we’re here to help. Feel free to send any questions to the team via Facebook, Twitter or our Help centre’s online chat function. 

Whether it’s about the technology or the installation process, check out our related articles, or drop us a line for a chat if you can’t find the answer there.

What does a smart meter look like?

ihd screen smart meter

The smart meter sends your meter readings to your energy supplier. 

You’ll also be offered an (optional) In-Home Display, which can be really handy to see your energy use.

You’ll need to make sure you have enough space near your existing meters for a smart meter to fit. Here are the dimensions, to help you check:

  • Electricity SMETS2 smart meter: W 127mm H 160mm D 65mm
  • Gas SMETS2 smart meter: W 235mm H 262mm D 167mm

Are smart meters free?

There’s no charge for getting a smart meter installed. Another great reason to get one! That’s because the cost of the nationwide smart meter rollout is covered within every supplier’s energy bills – in much the same way as with the upkeep and replacement of all other meters and infrastructure. 

Smart meter myths

Let’s look at some of the mysterious (and misguided) myths about smart meters.

Do smart meters cost anything?

Smart meters are installed completely free – unless there’s any  complicated building or engineering work involved because of the way the meter is positioned in your home.  

If there’s a need to move your existing meter(s), sadly this isn’t covered by your smart meter installation, and it’ll need to be arranged separately. Speak to your local Distribution Network Operator (DNO) or the National Grid.

Are smart meters safe and secure?

Some people worry that smart meters (like mobile phones, wifi and satellite TV) emit low-frequency radio waves that could be harmful to people who are sensitive to electromagnetic fields. Yet this is one myth that’s been resoundingly dismissed.

The government has been researching this for over 10 years and says there’s no evidence of any health risks. They’ve introduced strict product standards to make sure smart meters are safe, and they’ll continue to check for any ill effects as more and more homes get their new meters.

Smart meters have been rigorously tested for safety. They’ve passed all the UK and EU regulations that make sure a product is safe. They’re also super secure. We use safety measures agreed with the government (like encryption) to make sure that any data your smart meter shares with us is always safe and private. 

We also follow strict rules set out by the industry regulator, Ofgem, and all your personal data is safeguarded by the Data Protection Act too.

Smart meters don't use the internet and have their own closed communications system. It's been designed with top cybersecurity experts, including the government's security and intelligence organisation, GCHQ.

Read more about smart meter safety and security here

I’ve heard smart meters make weird noises, is this true?

The very first smart meters were occasionally accused of making a high-pitched whine or ticking sound. Nowadays they use the same kind of technology as mobile phones and tablets, so they don’t make any noise at all. All of which is great news for you, your neighbours and any roving packs of inquisitive dogs!

If you have any problem or issues once your smart meter is up and running, check out our comprehensive smart meter trouble-shooting article. It’ll help you solve the most common smart meter issues in no time.

Do I have to change the pricing plan I’m on?

You shouldn’t need to switch to a different plan when you get a smart meter. Though if your current meter is set up with unusual on and off-peak times, those settings might change as part of the smart meter upgrade.

If you’re currently on a prepayment or Pay As You Go plan, your smart meter will be set up as a prepayment meter. If you pay for your energy monthly, it’ll be set up as a ‘credit’ meter – meaning that you pay for it through your energy company rather than with a prepayment card.

Any further questions? From safety & security to installation and technology, find all the answers on our smart meters FAQs page.

OVO Smart meters: an Award-winning experience

With an OVO smart meter, you’re getting the latest technology to help you fight the climate crisis. But you’ll also get the best installation experience, as voted in the 2020 Uswitch Energy Awards

They’ve rated us Best Energy Supplier in 5 categories – including Best Smart Meter Experience. Plus, in Uswitch's latest survey of 17,000 households in the UK, we scored 5 stars out of 5.

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If you’re not yet with OVO, check out our Home Energy Plans. They all come with 100% renewable electricity and a tree planted on your name every year you're with us. Join us and see how much you could save on your energy bills.

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Already an OVO member and ready to jump in? Book an appointment to get your smart meter fitted.

Finally, find out everything you need to know about the Landis+Gyr (L+G) smart meter. It's one of the UK’s most popular – and some might say confusing to identify – smart meters!

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