Disadvantages of Smart Meters

The timeline initiated by the UK government was for Smart Meters to start being installed in 2016 with the completion of domestic and small business installations by 2020. This was later changed to 2024 after the government realised that teething problems and poor take up made the previous target unrealistic.

Energy companies have to make all reasonable efforts to encourage you to have a meter fitted although you are under no obligation to do so.

So what is the downside of Smart Meters?

There are those that have espoused the dangers of these new meters stating the emissions they give off are harmful.

Conspiracies of covert monitoring and power companies having the ability to cut you off remotely or hackers being able to access these devices via the mobile network.

The smart meter disadvantages are however far more mundane. Do you know who is paying the £11 Billion bill to have them installed? You should do because it's you.

Whilst your energy provider will install it for free we all pay with higher energy bills and will do for many years so the energy companies can recoup the costs. You pay more, even if you don't have one installed. So much for saving energy and saving money.

energy switching tip The new second-generation meters (SMETS2), on the other hand, operate on a new smart data network which isn’t reliant upon mobile phones. This new network will cover more than 99.25% of Great Britain by the end of rollout.

The first generation of smart meters went dumb when you switched energy provider. All the hallmarks of a rushed incompatible system as one companies meter was unable to communicate with other energy companies.

All of these meters need to be upgraded or replaced for them to work properly and guess who is going to foot the bill?

Communications coverage is one of a range of technical and commercial reasons why your supplier may not offer you a smart meter now. You may want to follow up with your supplier to understand when you will be eligible. - OFGEM

If you happen to have a SMETs1 first generation meter and you switch energy providers then it is likely that you are going to have to go back to doing manual meter readings.

I tried getting a manual meter reading from a SMETs1 meter from a household that was on Economy 7 and it was no easy task. There were numerous buttons, none of which hinted at there meaning and many different readings on the meters tiny monochrome display.

Suffice to say with no instruction manual and very little information online it was difficult to finally find the correct meter reading.

A more alarming downside of smart meters is that they don't always work. There are numerous horror stories on social media from customers who have had incorrect bills as their meter was recording inaccurate gas and electric readings.

Add to this that they rely on a good mobile signal to automatically send in the readings it means that you may be refused a meter anyway until they improve the network coverage.

Switching energy supplier with a smart meter

You can still switch energy suppliers if you have a smart meter installed by your current supplier. Having a smart meter installed by one energy company does not restrict you from moving to another energy company.

If you have the old SMETs1 smart meters and you switch to a new supplier then your smart meter will unlikely be able to communicate with the new energy supplier so you will have to submit meter readings.

If you have the newer SMETs2 smart meters that use a standard communication method that all suppliers can use then switching should mean that your new supplier will be able to take automatic meter readings the same way as your current supplier.

A smart meter is not going to reduce your bills, you can compare energy yourself to get an exact figure and see how much you could be saving by switching.

Can Smart Meters Spy on You?

The meter sends back data about your usage via SIM card. Energy suppliers can use this information to market to you.

With the old standard meters the energy companies would get a meter reading as and when you sent it in or when a meter reader came to your house.

Now they can see exactly how much you are using and when.

Will a Smart Meter save me Money?

Just having the meter installed will not save you money or reduce your energy usage, in fact you will be using more electricity to run the meter and mobile monitor display. You will only save money if you actively read the monitor and realise how much appliances cost to run and decide to switch them off.

Should I install a smart meter?

One couple Derek and Sue King as reported in the Daily Mail were left with no heating after their smart meter failed and cut off their gas supply. The problem was only resolved by reinstalling an old meter.

It's stories like this that are a genuine concern for consumers as they know their current meter works so why switch to a smart meter and risk there being complications and hassles.

According to research commissioned by Energy UK it is likely that as few as 54 percent of suitable premises will have a meter fitted by the 2024 target.

As yet you cannot be forced to install a new meter and can choose to wait and get a meter installed for free at a later date once all of the kinks have been ironed out.

However as the government's own targets are not likely to be met there is a possibility that households may be forced or coerced into having one installed.

Two rate smart meters

I've been researching the issues with smart meters and two rate tariffs such as Economy 7 and Economy 10 whilst writing an article about the best energy tariff for electric car owners which is where the smart meter issue popped up.

As of July 2020 there is still no national rollout of Smart meters able to handle two rate tariffs like E7 where you get cheaper rate electricity for 7 off peak hours, usually midnight to 7am.

Most energy suppliers offer an Economy 7 tariff and a handful of suppliers offer a similar two rate tariff for electric vehicle owners. Many of these tariffs, particularly the newer EV tariffs require you to have a smart meter installed.

The issue lies in the fact that most smart meters, even the newer SMETS2 second generation meters rolled out to replace the dumb 1st generation SMETS1 meters cannot handle two rates.

I spoke to British Gas and was put through to their 'Smart team' and spoke to one of their team asking if their smart meters can handle 2 rates.

British Gas offers a two rate tariff 'Electric Drivers Energy Plan Sep 2021' with 5 hours of off peak rate electricity from midnight and the tariff states you have to have a smart meter installed.

I queried this and was told by British Gas that they have no smart meters that can handle a two rate tariff. I asked multiple times as I couldn't believe they offer tariffs that require a smart meter but can't actually read two rates.

I request you can buy any tariff you want we will install the smart meter but there will not be two rates.

As you can see from their above quoted reply, British Gas does not offer smart meters that can handle two rate tariffs.

I know for a fact this is not true as British Gas quite clearly states on their own website for their two rate Electric Drivers Energy Plan that you 'You’ll need a British Gas electricity smart meter to sign up for this tariff. If you don’t have a smart meter - we’ll upgrade you to one of our smart meters, free of charge'.

I decided to check with the authority on smart meters in the UK, Smart Energy GB which is backed by the UK government to promote smart meter switching.

If you have (or would like to have) E7/10 supply you can get a smart meter as part of the national rollout. Smart meters can work with multiple tariffs as they are able to send half-hourly meter readings to your supplier.

So they confirm they can work with smart meters but they went on to clarify.

However, it does depend on which energy supplier is ready to install one for you. At present, these types of meters are in development stages and will be available at scale later in the rollout. I'd recommend keep going back to your supplier for more updates!

So as you can see, straight from the authority on smart meters. So it looks like smart meters are as yet still not as smart as the old fashioned dial meters we've been used to for decades.

You would have thought that if you are going to spend hundreds of millions rolling out smart meters that you'd at least wait until you had a smart meter that worked when you switched suppliers and worked with E7/E10 or other two rate tariffs.

It seems even more daft as the popularity of electric vehicle charging tariffs and heat pump energy tariffs grows that they wouldn't get the basics sorted out first.