The truth about smart meters
Busting some myths that you might have seen in the media
Should you get a smart meter? It's a question a lot of us have asked at some point.
And while you can get a smart meter at no extra cost, you've still done your research. You've also spoken to friends and family and read a lot of things about smart meters – all the advantages and disadvantages.
It's important you make the right decision for you. And to help you, we've pulled together some of the common statements about smart meters. Are they true? Are they facts? Or are they just myths? Read on to find out.
"You need to pay to get a smart meter installed"
There’s no additional charge for getting a smart meter installed. Another good reason to get one.
That’s because the cost of the nationwide smart meter rollout is covered within every supplier’s energy bills. Just like part of your bills goes towards the upkeep and replacement of meters and infrastructure, another small part goes towards the cost of smart meter installations.
"A smart meter will save you money"
Your smart meter will help you learn more about the energy your home uses so you can look at ways it can use less – leading to lower energy bills. For example, it can show you how much it costs when you boil a kettle, or use the tumble dryer. This will help you make small changes to reduce your home’s energy use and cut your bills. The automatic readings¹ will also make your bills more accurate, so you only pay for what you use. But if you don't take action to use less energy, you won't save any money just by getting a smart meter.
"A smart meter isn’t safe"
Smart meters have been rigorously tested for safety. They’ve passed all the UK and EU regulations that make sure a product is safe. These are the same regulations that your phone, microwave, and TV will have had to pass too.
"A smart meter needs the internet to work"
No, an internet connection isn’t necessary for smart meters to work. Depending on your location, your smart meters will communicate by either using existing mobile or radio signals in your area.
Some newer versions of the In-Home Display (IHD) connect to wifi, although this isn’t necessary.
"A smart meter isn’t secure"
Smart meters have their own closed communications system. Your data will only be seen by you and your energy supplier.
Smart meters use 2 secure networks to communicate:
- Home Area Network (HAN): so your meters can talk to each other
- Wide Area Network (WAN): to send us your meter readings
These are not the same as a wifi connection. Smart meters don’t need to use the internet so there’s no need for a wifi connection.
The HAN is used by smart meters in a similar way to how a wireless printer and home computer work together.
The WAN is like the network your smart phone uses.
We use safety measures 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 and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) too.
Smart meter data
We ask you to choose how often your smart meter sends readings when you first book an appointment. You can always change this later by chatting to us online.
The more data you have, the more you can learn about how your home uses energy and where it can use less. Half-hourly readings are a popular pick. Get the best insights about how your home uses energy.
"You have to have a smart meter"
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 be a law in place soon that says all homes should have smart meters. 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.
Also traditional meters are few and far between, which makes them hard to get hold of. We may have to install a smart meter in your property if your meter becomes faulty.
"You can’t get a smart meter if you're renting"
As long as you're the one paying the bills, you can get a smart meter. It’s a good idea to let your landlord know, just in case there are any rules in your contract against making changes to your property, but landlords shouldn’t say no to a smart meter without good reason.
Take a look at our renter’s guide to smart meters for more information.
"The installation can take hours and leave you with no power"
This would only happen in very unusual circumstances. On average, it takes 60 minutes for one smart meter to be installed. If you need both gas and electricity smart meters installed, it takes around 90 minutes. Your power will have to be turned off during that time, but it shouldn’t cause too much disruption to your day.
Smart meter appointments are broken down into 4 hour slots. You’ll need to be home for the whole time. Please note this is when the engineer arrives. So if you book an 8am to 12pm slot, and the engineer arrives at 11:30am, they may not finish until 1pm.
"Smart meters are harmful to your health"
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.
Public Health England has been researching this for over 10 years and has found 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.
"You need to change energy plans to get a smart meter"
You shouldn’t need to switch to a different plan when you get a smart meter. However, 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, your plan and payment method won’t change.
"Smart meters can 'turn dumb' or stop responding"
The first generation, or SMETS1 smart meters, could lose smart features when switching, but the nationwide upgrade should resolve that.
Just so you know, we're only installing SMETS2 smart meters – the kind that work with all energy suppliers.
For more information, see our guide on switching suppliers with a smart meter.
"Smart meters make your energy bills higher"
Getting a smart meter installed won’t directly increase your bills. There are no hidden charges or effects on your use, but as your bills are no longer estimated, this could make them seem higher.
Having a smart meter means you’re charged for exactly the amount of energy you use because your readings are sent to your supplier regularly. This could mean that your monthly bill is higher, but it’s only because your previous bills were underestimated. If you stuck with a traditional meter, you’d still end up paying for the same amount of energy overall, but you might be delaying the cost until you get a surprise bill.
"You need one smart meter for gas and another for electricity"
Yes. If you use both gas and electricity at home, both meters need to be replaced. If we supply both fuels to your property, we aim to install both meters on the same visit, to make things as easy as possible. The good thing is you'll only need one In-Home Display to view both your gas and electricity use.
If we only supply one fuel then we'll still install a smart meter for that one supply. You'll need to speak to the other supplier to get the second smart meter installed.
"Having a smart meter will change your tariff with OVO Energy"
For the majority of customers nothing about your plan, contract or pricing with OVO will change. The main difference will be that you have a shiny new meter, and you’ll no longer need to give us readings – which means your statements will be 100% accurate.
However, if your current meter is set up with unusual on and off-peak times e.g. Economy 7, those settings might change as part of the smart meter upgrade.
"Getting a smart meter won't help the UK"
Our nation is moving away from burning fossil fuels, and the demand for electricity is increasing. For example, we’re starting to use eco-friendly electric cars and hybrid vehicles. We’re also gradually shifting over to more low-carbon alternatives to our dirty gas boilers, which means more central heating systems powered by electricity.
All that increased demand means we’re having to make changes to the way the National Grid works. The goal is to build a smart grid.
More about the smart grid
A smart grid uses digital technology to better predict how much electricity we need at any one time. By having data from smart meters:
- We can do a better job of matching supply with demand
- The grid can better identify any power cuts or performance issues
- The grid can be more responsive to power generated by renewables
We can move towards a future of net zero living
Smart meters are one positive step towards upgrading our energy system so it’s 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.
Need a smart meter?
It’ll just take a couple of minutes to book your appointment.
Sources and references
1 We rely on a mobile phone or wireless signal to get your smart meter readings. If these fail, you'll either need to take your own reading and send it to us, or your bills will be estimated.