“Don’t get a smart meter – they’ll just turn your energy off when they want and steal your data”

Hmmm. that doesn’t sound quite right.

What’s a smart meter? And how are they connected to the environment?

A smart meter is a new(ish) type of energy meter being installed in the UK and many other countries. They allow you to be more aware of your energy usage, helping you reduce your emissions, whilst also allowing easier integration of renewables into the national grid.

There are two different types of smart meter, with the newest version more ‘clever’ than the last. They’re a replacement for old meters and can automatically send usage data to gas and electricity companies very frequently.

When speaking about smart meters, these include two things – the smart meter(s), probably where your old one(s) were, and an in-home display. Every household in the UK should have been offered a smart meter installation by 2025. There are no up-front costs for having a smart meter installed.

Better for you:

When you have a smart meter, you can see your energy usage and spend in real-time. This allows you to be much more aware of the energy you are using, which can help you make reductions and reduce your emissions and costs. Because of the increased frequency of automatic readings, your bills will be based on usage and not estimates, meaning your bills will be much more accurate. If you have a prepay meter, you can easily see when you’re running low on credit and may be able to top-up in easier ways than going to a shop. Smart meters can also get you better energy deals in some cases.

Better for the energy companies:

Smart meters make it easier for energy companies to understand changes in supply and demand because they get meter readings more frequently. This makes it much easier for companies to integrate renewable energy sources into the supply, whilst also making energy supplies more reliable. So they help to decarbonise our energy supplies too.

The rumours:

There are lots of rumours about what smart meters might be able to do… and most of those rumours are quite untrue.

Can they turn my energy off?

Smart meters can allow energy companies to turn your electricity off remotely. However, they can’t just do that when they want. Your protections are exactly the same as they were with old meters. Energy companies can’t disconnect you unless it’s been 28 days since you’ve had a debt and you haven’t spoken to your company about it. They have to give you an opportunity to pay before disconnecting you. They also can’t disconnect you if you’re deemed vulnerable. Your risks of being disconnected are no greater than with an old meter.

Are they spying on me? Can anyone access my data?

No, they’re not. The only data transmitted from your smart meter is that about energy usage. The only difference to old meters is that this is automatically transmitted more frequently. However, if you want, you can get that functionality turned off and make your meter ‘dumb’, but then many of the other benefits of being able to see your usage are lost. You can also decide how frequently readings are sent to your energy company.

There have also been fears that smart meters are forms of government surveillance. That energy companies can see how many showers you take, how long they are, when you make a cup of tea.. figure out when you’re on holiday. There was massive backlash against this in France in 2017. Although energy companies can see this data, it cannot be sold on without permission from you. Smart meters are very secure, having been created with GCHQ. They’ve never been hacked. When the data is transmitted, it does not include your personal details… so there’s no higher risk of these being accessed either. Energy companies also can’t see exactly what you’re up to – they know how much energy you’re using, but not on what.

But I wouldn’t be able to change supplier!

You can… but your smart meter might not work in the same way. With first edition smart meters, you can change supplier, but your machine will go ‘dumb’ after you switch. This means that it basically resorts to being like an old meter. Work is being done to update these meters so that this doesn’t happen – making switching less scary.

New edition smart meters don’t have this problem. They can switch suppliers much more easily and remain fully usable.

Summary:

Smart meters really are a good thing, allowing energy companies (and us) to adapt for the future, whilst helping to reduce our energy emissions. If you really are scared of them, you don’t have to have one, or you can just make them ‘dumb’. There isn’t much reason not to get one!

Sources:

Which – What is a smart meter? – https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/smart-meters/article/smart-meters-explained/what-is-a-smart-meter-artlW8n6atdo

The Guardian – Is your smart meter spying on you? – https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/jun/24/smart-meters-spying-collecting-private-data-french-british

GOV.UK – Smart meters: a guide – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/smart-meters-how-they-work

OFGEM – Transition to smart meters – https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/gas/retail-market/metering/transition-smart-meters

SAGA – Smart meter myth busting – https://www.saga.co.uk/magazine/technology/home-technology/gadgets/smart-meter-myth-busting

Resolver – Smart meters – https://www.resolver.co.uk/rights-guide/smart-meters

Look After My Bills – Smart meters: the advantages and disadvantages – https://lookaftermybills.com/blog/advantages-disadvantages-of-smart-meters/

Smart Meters – Benefits for you – https://www.smartenergygb.org/en/smart-meter-benefits/benefits-for-you

Money Supermarket – Smart meter guide – https://www.moneysupermarket.com/gas-and-electricity/smart-meters/

Simply Switch – Smart meters: pros and cons – https://www.simplyswitch.com/energy/guides/smart-meters-pros-cons/

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