What is a smart meter?

Credit: ITV/Tonight

Millions of smart meters are being installed in households across the country aimed at helping consumers save money on their energy bills.

But an investigation by ITV Tonight reveals in some cases the rollout has not gone according to plan.

Here are some key facts about the smarter meters.

  • What is a smart meter?

A smart meter replaces your traditional gas and electricity meters. It uses wireless signals to send your readings directly to your supplier so you don’t have to read your meter, ending estimated bills.

You should also receive an in-home display, which tells you how much energy you’re using in real time.

Pre-pay customers will also be able to top-up through an app.

An in-home display enables customers to check their energy consumption. Credit: ITV/Tonight
  • Why are we getting smart meters?

The European Union requires member countries to install smart meters.

It’s been in British legislation to upgrade our meters, originally by 2019, but after a series of delays, it has been pushed back to 2020.

  • Can I refuse a smart meter?

Yes. It is optional to have a smart meter. Suppliers have to offer everyone a smart meter by 2020 but customers can refuse to have one installed.

The digital meters are aimed at making it easier to provide energy readings to suppliers. Credit: PA
  • Is a smart meter free?

The rollout costs £11bn. Tonight estimates we could be paying £350 per energy bill for the smart meter rollout.

You won’t pay all at once - it’s being paid for on our bills over several years. EDF has already put its prices up, citing smart meters as one of the reasons.

But it doesn’t cost you any more to have one fitted - every household pays for the rollout regardless of whether you have one or not.

The cost of the smart meter roll out across the UK. Credit: ITV/Tonight
  • Will having a smart meter installed be disruptive?

The industry says it should take around two hours to install both a gas and electricity smart meter.

But the Tonight programme has learned these installations don’t always go to plan and could mean it takes three or four hours or may require a second visit.

In a statement, British Gas told the Tonight programme that customer satisfaction is high.

"The vast majority of our smart meter installations are completed successfully in a single visit by one of our qualified engineers. In the rare event of a second visit being required, this will be agreed with the customer in advance."

  • Will a smart meter save me money?

Savings from smart meters require us to change our behaviour and use less energy.


is how much the government estimates it will save consumers.

Energy suppliers will save money on not having to send out meter readers to your home and fewer complaints from estimated bills.

The government estimates this will save them £8bn. There is no legislation to force energy suppliers to pass on any savings they may make but the industry and the Government says market forces will mean the savings will be passed onto consumers.

  • Can I change supplier if I have a smart meter?

Your smart meter may lose its functionality if you change supplier. If you already have a smart, it’s highly likely you have a first-generation meter. There’s no reason why you can’t switch, but the meter and the in-home display could stop working.

The next generation are due to be rolled out soon which are supposed to be inter-operable between suppliers.

  • Do I need the internet in my home to have a smart meter?

No. It uses a separate signal.

  • Tonight - Energy Bills: Can We Be Smarter? will be broadcast on ITV at 7.30pm