Switching Energy Providers with a Smart Meter – A Guide

JulieanneElectricity & Gas, Energy Efficiency, Guide

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tldr;

  • Switching to a better energy tariff is always a good idea.
  • If you don’t have a smart meter yet, make sure to get a 2nd gen smart meter (SMETS 2) that can connect to all suppliers.
  • If you have a smart meter already (and it’s a SMETS 1) and if you switch suppliers, your meter may lose some of its functionality but it’s still a good thing to have as it’ll help you monitor your energy usage, and you can use it to provide manual readings to your new supplier, so you’re no worse off than you were before.

Can I still switch energy suppliers if I already have a smart meter?

Yes! Absolutely! The technology just isn’t quite there yet to make switching as smooth a process as it could be.

So what’s the story with smart meters not being as smart as we thought?

Ok, so the smart meters installed up until now across the UK have been 1st generation devices (called SMETS 1) which communicate only with the energy supplier that provides them.

The 2nd generation devices (called SMETS 2) use a central data network which all suppliers can automatically connect to, so they can see your usage and meter readings, and your in-home display shows any supplier’s costs without any problems. To maintain smart functionality and to enable switching between energy providers without losing that functionality, this is the type of smart meter you want in your home. 

However, if you have a 1st generation smart meter (SMETS 1) and you switch supplier, there’s a good possibility that the new supplier won’t be able to operate the meter in smart mode, so they will need to revert to operating it as a traditional meter with readings taken manually, i.e. by you. So you’re back to where you were before, when you had to provide readings to your supplier on a monthly or so basis. This isn’t an ideal situation and that’s why it makes sense to wait for a 2nd gen smart meter if you can. 

(If you’re interested, Bulb has written this handy guide on how to read smart meter displays in order to manually send readings to your supplier.)

The good news: Suppliers are starting the rollout of 2nd gen smart meters already, and 1st gen smart meters are expected to be connected to the new national infrastructure in the first half 2019. This will give everyone the flexibility to switch between suppliers without losing smart features.

Some quick facts:

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters communicate between your home and your energy supplier using a wireless network. The monitor shows how much energy you’re using in pounds and pence and kilowatt hours (kWh) in near real time, and helps bring an end to estimated bills by automatically sending your supplier your meter readings, so you don’t have to.

Do I have to get a smart meter?

Nope! All suppliers will eventually be required to offer you one, but smart meters are NOT mandatory. You can always change your mind if you decide you want one at a later date, simply contact your current supplier and ask. 

What are the benefits of using the smart meter?

If you’re looking to reduce your energy usage and save on your bills, the meters can help you figure out where and when you’re using most energy and where you can cut back.

Some energy suppliers have interactive online tools or apps that work with your smart meter to see how you’re using your energy, making saving energy fun! 

Smart meters (when they work properly) also get rid of estimated bills. By automatically sending your energy supplier exact meter readings, you never pay more than you have to.

Can I get a smart meter if I rent?

Yes. If you pay the bills and they’re addressed to you, you don’t need your landlord’s permission to get a smart meter fitted – although it’s a good idea to let them know.

I’m on Economy 7 or 10 tariff – can I get a smart meter?

Economy 7 and 10 are tariffs which charge different amounts at different times of day (eg. one rate for nighttime usage, one for day). A few suppliers have now started offering smart meters capable of handling two-rate tariffs, but not all. If you’re on one of these ‘two-rate tariffs’, your smart meter should automatically send meter readings for both the low- and high-rate periods, but it’s always worth double checking your tariff is set up correctly once the meters are installed.

Can I get a smart meter if I have solar panels?

Yes! Although as with traditional meters it will only track energy you get from your supplier, rather than what you generate yourself or export back to the grid.

Ok. I’m ready for my smart meter, how do I get one? 

Since the energy suppliers are in the process of handing them out and installing them (at no extra charge to you), you can check if smart meters are available in your area now on the Smart Energy GB website (the company that is managing the roll out of smart meters across the UK) and clicking on your supplier for more info.

If you don’t see your supplier there, contact them directly or check their website about their smart meter rollout plans. (For example, Bulb is waiting until 2nd generation meters are released to distribute them to all their customers.)

In summary…

When discussing with your provider about getting your new smart meter, make sure to request a 2nd generation one called SMETS 2 to enable smart switching between suppliers without loss of functionality.

If all they can provide are 1st generation smart meters (SMETS 1), it’s still worth getting one as you can get smart functionality for the time you are with that supplier. Then if you decide to switch suppliers in future, you may temporarily lose that smart functionality, but starting in 2019, the SMETS 1 meters should be upgraded and will work with all suppliers. 

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