Smart meter anxiety: how to embrace – not fear – energy monitoring 

Is your smart meter stressing you out? You’re not alone…

In-home display on kitchen worktopCredit: Shutterstock/Daisy Daisy

Tech-related anxiety is nothing new. From the ‘computerphobia’ of the 1980s, where people were scared to even touch a keyboard, to the latter day fear of missing out, or FOMO, which can result from scrolling through social media, we’ve lived with it for decades.

And its latest iteration? Smart meter anxiety, where energy monitoring starts to affect your mental health. 

If your smart meter is having a negative impact on your life and causing you stress and anxiety, we aim to turn that around and give you a positive experience. Our tips will help you to banish any smart meter fears and encourage you to engage with your energy usage. 

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What is smart meter anxiety?

Why do people worry about smart meters?

In theory, smart meters should help us manage our energy use, giving us insight into how we consume energy on a real-time basis, rather than having to wait until we receive a bill to know how much energy we’ve used and how much it’s going to cost.

However, the reality can be quite different, as homeowners faced with rising energy costs become obsessed with checking their smart meters. Ironically, constant access to your energy usage can leave you feeling out of control, as you worry about how you’re going to pay for it. 

We all react differently when faced with something new. Some embrace new developments, while others are more cautious and uncertain faced with something new. It’s no different with smart versus traditional meters. We’re all getting used to the new way our energy is being measured and billed, coupled with the latest technology. It’s no wonder some feel tentative or sceptical about the change. 

Smart meters vs in-home displays 

Before we go any further, we need to explain the difference between a smart meter and an in-home display. There’s a lot of confusion over these two elements, which contributes to people’s smart meter angst. 

A smart meter measures your energy, just like an analogue meter. The difference is that these details are sent directly to your energy supplier without you having to take a meter reading. 

You’ll be offered an in-home display when your smart meter is installed. It’s a small, portable touch-screen device that connects to your smart meter via radio waves, so you don’t need to rely on a smartphone or wi-fi to use it.  

The monitor displays your energy use in kilowatt hours (kWh), pounds and pence. Although it won’t help you save money on its own, it can guide you to make more informed decisions about how you use energy. 

To be clear, the in-home display is not the smart meter, and it won’t send your usage to your energy supplier. 

Key causes of smart meter anxiety

The key causes of concern

Is Big Brother watching?

While smart meters give energy companies remote access to your gas and electricity usage, there are some fears that your privacy is being invaded. So, what information gets shared by a smart meter?  

Your smart meter stores and transmits simple information on how much energy your home has used. According to Smart Energy GB, a not-for-profit that campaigns for smart meters, “personal information like your name, address and bank account details are not stored on or transmitted by the meter”. 

Your supplier can’t use any data from your smart meter for sales and marketing purposes unless you actively give it permission to do so.

The numbers are scary

With the recent escalation in the price of gas and electricity, smart meter owners have been checking their in-home displays more regularly. And if your display is easily accessible – perhaps you place it on a kitchen worktop or a windowsill – it’s hard to ignore.  

Some people find this helpful, and others might not. New research shows 56% of people with a smart meter are monitoring their gas and electricity use much more closely this year. The survey of 2,000 adults, carried out by OnePoll on behalf of Smart Energy GB, discovered that 89% of those polled found their smart meter in-home display useful, with almost half saying the best feature was seeing their energy use in pounds and pence. 

Try to use your smart meter in ways that help you rather than causing you anxiety. If you find it a difficult reminder of your rising bills, could you put it somewhere less visible?

Ways to embrace your smart meter

Our Exceptional readers share their experiences

Since the energy price hike, we’re more conscious of how we use energy in our everyday lives. While this is good from a sustainability perspective, as we’re reducing our consumption and carbon footprint, it can cause worry, especially in a climate of rising bills.    

So, at Saga Exceptional, we wanted to discover first-hand what our audience thinks – and how they use their smart meters wisely to help reduce smart meter anxiety. 

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1. Embrace the visibility it gives you

Stay in control

We spoke to Graham Summersfield, 86, who’s had a gas and electric smart meter for 12 months. He also enjoys his tech. “I jumped at the chance of having one. I couldn’t wait to get it,” he says.  

“I can control the amount of gas and electricity I’m using and can see what appliances use more energy. It’s helped me use my appliances more sensibly. Instead of heating water for a drink in the kettle, where I also tend to boil more than I need, I use the microwave.” 

Summersfield keeps his in-home display in his kitchen and checks it about three times a day. “I’m certainly not anxious about using the monitor. I’d say I’m curious.” 

2. Take advantage of lower tariffs

Ease the pressure

As an Octopus customer, Summersfield can take advantage of the supplier’s ‘Saving Sessions’, under which he can change when he uses energy, reducing his electricity use at peak times (such as 5.30-6.30pm) to help take pressure off national demand.

Having the smart meter monitor enables him to check what energy he’s using during these times, and put a few energy saving tips into action.

Being in control of the energy you use is one factor highlighted in the Smart Energy GB poll, with 44% of respondents saying checking their energy consumption makes them feel in control, while 29% felt more organised.   

Smart meter users Heather Thomas, 64, and Christopher Thomas, 63, see an increase in usage first thing in the morning when the heating goes on, but they try to flatten out other peaks during the day. Christopher explains: “When everyone else is turning the kettle or oven on, we try to avoid doing those things at those times.” 

With an Economy 7 tariff, the couple makes use of cheap electricity for seven hours overnight: “We always try to use our heavier use appliances during these hours. With the current energy crisis, we’ve tried a little bit harder to use them overnight and avoid peak daytime usage. If we need to use heavy-use appliances outside Economy 7 hours, we try to avoid peak times, though we don’t have a cheaper rate for these times.  

“As we’re semi-retired, we have no time constraints on when we use energy, so we try and keep our bills manageable. At the same time we can be flexible with when we use energy to help our supplier manage demand.” 

3. Make better decisions

Manage your energy use

The Thomases opted for an electric smart meter just under a year ago. “It made sense to have one,” says Heather Thomas. “I find the display helpful as it gives us an accurate reading of the energy we’re using, although I have to watch that I’m not getting obsessed over it.” 

The biggest plus for the couple is that the smart meter monitor has helped them make more informed decisions. For example, seeing how much energy their electric storage heaters consume influences whether they turn another one on or not. 

“We’re much more aware of the energy we use,” says Heather, “and we’ve reduced our usage and changed the times we use things a bit.” 

Having an in-home display does have its benefits. Smart Energy GB states: “This increased monitoring has led to an enhanced awareness of energy costs, with 32% saying that they have a better understanding of what they are paying for electricity and gas this winter than last.” 

4. Track your usage, not the cost

Avoid paranoia

The Thomases keep their in-home display in their living room, and Heather Thomas glances at it now and again. Christopher Thomas is the main one who keeps an eye on the monitor, checking it up to six times a day. 

It was a different story when they first got their smart meter. “It was a new gadget and we were both looking at it, wondering what was going on,” says Christopher, but they say this soon settled down.  

He has some advice on using the in-home display: “Don’t stare at it all day because you’ll get paranoid very quickly. Also, I’d recommend not looking at the cost, look at the usage graph instead. I know everyone’s thinking about the bills but instead think about what your energy is being used for rather than what it’s costing you – you can then try to reduce your usage.” 

“We don’t sit in front of the meter taking notes of what’s happening, but we do notice spikes, and quiz each other over what’s caused it.” 

5. Nominate someone to monitor it for you

Do what’s best for the bill payer

While the Thomases are happy to use the smart meter’s in-home display, it was a different matter for Heather Thomas’s mother, who’s nearly 90. “She was reticent to have one,” she explains. “She thought the smart meter was the display and she didn’t want one in her home. The whole idea scared her.” 

Heather Thomas was also aware that her mother would panic if she saw how much energy she was using and would turn the heating down when it was vital for her to keep warm. 

So how did they find a solution? “The only way I could persuade her to have a smart meter was that the display would stay in its box in the garage,” she explains. 

It’s a similar story for Philip Sowels’ mum, who’s in her late eighties. “My mother started to get upset about her bills – how they were little one minute and huge the next. She didn’t understand how the bills balanced out over time and that you could have a negative balance in winter and be in credit over the summer.” 

6. Even out your bills

Ease billing anxiety

In the end, Sowels arranged for his mother to have a smart meter, even though she was against it initially: “She was adamant about not having a smart meter and very wary. She’s very private and didn’t want anything monitoring her, knowing how much energy she’d used for what and her daily usage.”   

Despite her initial reluctance, Sowels says it has been a good solution for her. Aside from no longer needing to send meter readings to her energy supplier, it has eased her anxiety over large quarterly bills, as she now makes monthly direct debit payments. 

7. Monitor the energy your household produces

See your solar input

Marilyn Coates, 69, and her husband, John, have been using a smart meter for six years. They made more use of the in-home display when they first got the device. She says: “We were fixated with it at the beginning, and the house we were in at the time had solar panels, so it was really useful to see what energy we were using and what we’d produced.” 

More recently, for the Coates there was a bigger incentive than the in-home display: as electric car owners, they could take advantage of an EV tariff with their energy supplier.  

EV tariffs are energy tariffs designed for owners of electric vehicles (EVs) that allow you to make the most of cheaper off-peak electricity prices when you charge your car overnight. 

8. Help a friend or relative to operate it

Easier readings for those who need support

Apart from managing her electricity and gas through a smart meter, Coates also manages the energy for two other households. One is for a relative with dementia. “We got the smart meter fitted for her, but she doesn’t use the in-home display as she wouldn’t be able to understand it,” she says. “She presses buttons – that’s her thing, so we’ve never told her about the display.” 

The second lady she helps is an old family friend whose husband has died. “We took on her gas and electric because she was struggling with her bills, and we used to go around and read her meter and send the readings to her supplier. 

“It wasn’t a big deal, but we had to be there to take the reading. Fortunately, before Covid, we persuaded her she’d get a much better tariff if she got a smart meter fitted,” says Coates. 

The timing worked out well. The smart meter was installed shortly before the first Covid lockdown, meaning she could rely on automatic readings being sent to the supplier rather than visiting in person. 

How to help a friend or relative manage their bills: do you need permission? 

It can seem like a grey area when it comes to helping friends and relatives manage their energy bills, so we asked Citizens Advice for their guidance. A spokesperson said: “Suppliers will probably have a higher bar for giving out information, as opposed to receiving it. So for instance, an energy supplier may allow a friend or relative to give a meter reading or pay a bill, but would need something more before they would divulge the credit balance on an account.  

“Each energy firm will have its own individual processes, but it is best practice for suppliers to accept direct consent from the customer, either verbally or in writing. So a phone call from the customer to say they’re happy for a particular friend or relative to manage the account should be fine without legal power of attorney.” 

Final thoughts on reducing smart meter anxiety

Do what works for you

We are all finding our own ways to use smart meters. While some of us are happy with the basics and being able to forget about meter readings, others are keen to use in-home displays to take more control over their energy use. But with a better understanding of how smart meters and in-home displays work, we can all hope to reduce some of the anxiety smart meters can cause. 

How do I get a smart meter? 

If you’re interested in installing a smart meter, it’s best to contact your gas and/or electricity supplier. There’s no cost involved, as the meter and installation are free, but depending on your supplier and where you live, you may have to wait.

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Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her

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With her 30 years of experience, Camilla Sharman has covered a wide range of sectors within the business and consumer industries both as a feature, content, and freelance writer.  As a business journalist, Camilla has researched articles for many different sectors from the jewellery industry to finance and tech, charities, and the arts. Whatever she’s covered, she enjoys delving deep and learning the ins and out of different topics, then conveying her research within engaging content that informs the reader.