Smart meters: Everything you need to know

What smart meters do, how they work – and how you can make the most of them

With the increase in energy prices and our desire to become more sustainable, there’s lots of talk about how smart meters can help us save money, energy, and reduce our carbon footprint.

The question is: should you get a smart meter? 

There’s lots of confusion about what a smart meter does, such as what’s the difference between a smart meter and an in-home display monitor? We present the facts to help you decide if a smart meter is right for you.

Woman holding an in-home smart meter display on a tableCredit: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

What are they?

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are the new generation of gas and electricity meters being rolled out across Britain. The Government believes they will help households to reduce their energy use, saving money and carbon emissions.  

Smart meters could help the UK achieve its legally binding target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. By providing suppliers with a real-time picture of how much energy is being used, firms can source energy more efficiently.

Smart meters help to give energy suppliers and the National Grid a more accurate picture of consumer energy demand.

This means the grid will be better able to make the most of the energy from renewable sources, rather than relying on fossil fuels.

It also helps the creation of incentive schemes for people who agree to switch off at surge times, meaning companies are less likely to run out of green energy and have to resort to carbon fuels to meet demand.

A smart meter is not the same as an energy monitor connected to a traditional gas or electric meter. A monitor connected to a traditional meter can’t relay data to your supplier, although they do give you a clear indication of what energy you are using and can encourage you to use less.


Are they compulsory?

Do I have to get a smart meter?

The Government’s rollout programme aims to ensure all households and small businesses have a smart meter by 2025. Energy suppliers cannot charge a fee for either the meter or its installation. Instead, the cost is shared across everyone’s energy bills. The rollout has now passed the halfway mark – 54% of energy meters in Britain are now smart. 

So does this mean smart meters are compulsory? No, you don’t have to accept one. You can contact Citizens Advice for help if your supplier is insisting you have one fitted. But if your existing meter needs replacing, you might find that only smart meters are available. And if you’re moving into a new-build property, a smart meter will be installed automatically. You may also find that some of the cheapest tariffs are only available for smart meters.

How they work

How do smart meters work?

A smart meter accurately measures your use of electricity (and gas, if you have gas). This data is then sent automatically at regular intervals to your energy supplier to give a reading of your energy usage. The good news is that you’ll no longer need to read your meter and you can wave goodbye to estimated bills. 

So how does your energy supplier receive the information? The clever bit is that smart meters use wireless technology to send the data to your supplier via a secure network.  

It’s a new network set up for this task and works in a similar way to other wireless systems. It doesn’t use the internet, though. Your smart meter will send automatic readings to your energy supplier via the secure smart data network which is solely for smart meters. 

Cost savings

Can a smart meter really save me money? 

Yes – providing you take an active approach to monitoring how you use energy around your home, you can make savings. The in-home display allows you to set a monthly budget that will help you control your spend. You can also benefit from a scheme run by the National Grid that rewards you when you use your appliances at off-peak times.

Whatever household appliance you’re running, you’ll be able to see how much energy is being consumed instantly – which is particularly helpful in identifying your hungriest appliances. 

The Energy Saving Trust reports that wet appliances (washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers) make up the biggest share of a typical energy bill, at 14%. When you have the figures at your fingertips, it’s easier to make changes. 


Previously, many energy suppliers were offering smart meter customers more favourable tariffs. It was also possible to benefit from time-of-use tariffs. These tariffs offer cheaper energy prices when fewer people are using energy or when more renewable energy is being generated, helping to balance supply and demand.

At the moment, energy prices are so high that unless you’re still on an old fixed-term rate, you’ll be on the prices protected by the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee – regardless of whether you have a smart meter. Depending on what happens to energy prices and the price guarantee in future, it’s possible that better rates for smart meter customers could return.

Who can have one

Can everyone have a smart meter?

The first generation of smart meters, SMETS1s, relied on wi-fi to operate. This caused a problem for households with poor internet coverage. Thankfully, this has been fixed and the latest SMETS2 version uses a different data network so isn’t reliant on wi-fi or an internet connection. This means that even if you have a weak internet connection, you can still get a smart meter.

Despite this, not all households can use the scheme. A spokesperson from supply firm Octopus Energy explained: “It may be because their meter cupboard is in an obstructed area, or due to an underlying issue with the signal in the area. Even in this day and age, mobile and radio signals, unfortunately, don’t work in some places. 

“As an energy supplier, there are still a few solutions we can try, though. In south and central England, smart meters use mobile networks to communicate, so we can install aerials to improve the mobile signal. In the north of the country we have to use local communications hubs, which rely on long-range radio signals. As more smart meters are installed, connectivity should improve over time.” 

The in-home display

Making the most of the in-home display

Electric smart meter shown with in-home display deviceCredit: Smart Energy GB
The smart meter comes with an in-home display monitor to help you manage your energy use

The smart meter comes with an in-home display monitor. Although it’s optional whether you use it or not, it will give you real-time data about your energy use.  

Apart from tracking how much energy you’re using, it will also monitor where it’s being used and how much it’s costing, allowing you to budget and manage your energy use more easily. Plus, it’s simple to use and can be plugged in or powered with batteries. 

If you already have solar panels and generate your own electricity, your in-home display will only show the energy you are using, but in future it should be able to display the energy you’re generating too. (Any electricity you generate will still be factored into your bills, even if it’s not shown on your smart meter.)  

The make and model of your in-home display will depend on your energy supplier, but they must all meet minimum specifications set out by the Smart Meter Equipment Technical Specifications (SMETS).  

Usually, the information provided by the in-home display is all people need to identify where they can cut down on energy, help budget, and see how much they are spending. However, if you like all the detail, you could invest in a consumer access device (CAD). But unlike in-home displays, which come free with your smart meter, they come at a cost. As an example, you can expect to pay £69.99 for a Hildebrand smart meter display and CAD.

The information that appears on your display will depend on whether you have a standard meter or a pre-payment meter. 

Standard customer display 

  • Cost of current energy in pounds and pence 
  • Amount of electricity used in kWh 
  • Amount of gas used in kWh 
  • 13 months of historic data

… And if you’re a pre-pay customer you’ll also see 

  • Amount you are in credit or debit to your supplier 
  • Your emergency balance 

First vs second generation

First generation smart meters: getting smarter? 

If you already have a smart meter, it’s worth knowing which generation of meter you are using. There are two types, known as SMETS1 and SMETS2.  

The first smart meter to be released was the SMETS1, of which there are around 18 million now in circulation. Unfortunately the SMETS1 doesn’t function as well if you change supplier. While they still work as a regular meter, you can’t send data to your new supplier so you have to submit meter readings manually. If you’re looking to change supplier, you’ll need to upgrade your SMETS1, which can be done remotely, or by swapping to the latest version. 

A spokesperson for Smart Energy GB told Exceptional that the upgrade of first generation meters is being done remotely, which means an installer doesn’t need to visit your home.

“The large majority of smart meters that had previously lost connectivity due to switching have already been upgraded, with the remainder continuing at pace,” they said. If you haven’t had an upgrade, contact your supplier. You can’t buy your own meter.

There have also been technical problems with some first-generation meters. Some SMETS1 meter users reported screens going blank and overestimated energy usage – hence Ofgem has told energy companies to stop installing first-generation meters and move to the second-generation version. Firms that continued installing SMETS1s have faced bans on taking on new customers under their licence obligations. 

The SMETS2 is currently being installed across the country and works differently to SMETS1. Your energy usage data is fed directly into a new wireless data network, accessible to your supplier. It means that if you want to switch supplier, your smart meter will still work. 


Smart meter installation

Energy suppliers are responsible for installing the smart meter equipment, which you can expect to take a couple of hours. There’s no upfront charge – the cost is absorbed into everyone’s energy bills.  

Installation is happening on an area-by-area basis – so it’s worth checking if your location is ‘smart ready’. You can get in touch with your supplier to check the timeline and either book a smart meter installation or register your interest. If you haven’t already been offered a smart meter, you can request one from your energy supplier. 

If you switch to a smart meter, you’ll get a smart electricity meter, smart gas meter (if you have gas), communications hub and an in-home display monitor.  

If you’re a dual-fuel customer, your supplier will install both the electricity and gas smart meters, and you’ll receive one monitor that displays both your gas and electricity usage. If you use different suppliers, your meters will be installed separately by the different suppliers and you’ll have two monitors, one for electricity, one for gas.  

Health risks

Are there any health risks to smart meters? 

Smart meters produce radio waves. There has been a large amount of research on radio waves and health, including radio waves from smart meters, which suggests that smart meters do not pose a risk to health. In fact, the emissions are lower than from other everyday devices such as your mobile phone or wi-fi. 


Are there any privacy risks to smart meters? 

Smart meters don’t hold personal information. Their main task is to record your energy usage and tariff and share this with your energy supplier. To keep your data safe, it’s sent over a secure network which is managed by the Data Communications Company, a subsidiary of the outsourcing firm Capita, which takes on Government contracts. All your data should be handled in accordance with guidelines set out by the energy regulator Ofgem. 


Could I get a wrong reading? 

Smart meters are more accurate than analogue meters as they send up-to-date information directly to your energy supplier. However, if you had a faulty analogue meter, or did not submit meter readings and got estimated bills, you might find that your payments change when your smart meter is installed.

If you are concerned that your bills are wrong, or your smart meter is showing an error message, you should contact your supplier.

Waiting time

How long will I have to wait for a smart meter? 

Energy suppliers are responsible for providing and installing smart meters to their customers and they must meet the Government’s overall timescale and targets. This means that even if your supplier can’t install a smart meter for you yet, they are obliged to do so before the end of the roll-out in 2025. 

How to get a smart meter

How can I get a smart meter?

A spokesperson from Smart Energy GB said the industry was “working on fixes” so that “every home can benefit from a smart meter before the end of the rollout”. 

“Each energy supplier will have different plans for installing smart meters for their customers,” added Smart Energy GB. “But if you would like one, you should contact your energy supplier directly and see if they have an installation available shortly, or otherwise register your interest in having one installed at the next opportunity.”

Camilla Sharman

Written by Camilla Sharman she/her


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.