Can smart meters break?

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At Octopus we’re big fans of smart meters

They send us readings automatically, so your bills are always accurate: one less thing on your to-do list, and you’ll always know how much the energy you’re using costs.

But the real truth about smart meters is they unlock a key part of the green energy transition: flexibility.

The sun isn’t always shining, and the wind isn’t always blowing. So to make the most use of renewable energy - and pay as little as possible for it - we need to be able to adapt how we use energy.

Smart meters are capable of logging a reading every 30 minutes, which enables us to build energy tariffs that are much more reactive to the availability of cheap renewable energy.

As our founder Greg said:

Smart meters sound really complex?

They are! But they are a very mature technology, and have been used by customers across the globe for decades. All energy meters - not just smart ones - have to conform to incredibly strict government regulations on accuracy.

Do feel free to have a read through the full legislation if you’re ever struggling to sleep (we joke, we know these things are important!).

Do smart meters ever break?

Nothing in life is ever entirely certain, but the reality is any meter - smart or otherwise - is very unlikely to record usage incorrectly.

(The only exception might be if it’s very old and past its recertification date - and all energy suppliers are obliged to reach out to you and offer a new one if yours is old.)

We’ve tested thousands of meters at the request of customers over the years, and the number that were recording usage incorrectly was a tiny, tiny fraction compared to the millions of smart meters we’ve installed.

But I’ve had a smart meter installed and now it’s saying I’m using more energy?

To be upfront, it’s very unlikely this is due to a fault on the meter. When meters do have faults usually the screen stop working, or the meter stops recording any consumption at all.

If you feel that you are using more energy after we’ve installed a smart meter, it’s worth considering a few things:

  • Is it just because you have more visibility of what you’re using? Most of us don’t pay attention to our energy bills; we just pay the monthly amount and at the end of the year we’ve either got some credit left, or we owe a bit extra. Smart meters can make us more aware of our day-to-day energy consumption.
  • Has anything changed in your home recently? Has someone moved back home? Or are you keeping the heating on more than usual?
  • Do you have any high use appliances, or have you got any new devices recently? Your In-Home Display (IHD) can show you how much energy is being used by a device; typically the highest use appliances are tumble dryers, electric hobs / ovens, and washing machines. Fan heaters or large cooling units also use a lot of energy.

Can I check if my meter is accurate?

Yes, there’s a simple check you can perform which we call a creep test (no relation to Radiohead).

If you’re happy turning your mains power off at the fuse

  • Take a reading from your meter, then turn the mains fuse off.
  • Wait 5 minutes, then switch the mains back on.
  • If the meter reading stays the same (no consumption was recorded) then your smart meter is very likely operating as intended.
  • If the meter reading changes something odd might be happening. Get in touch with us so we can help.

If you’re not able to turn off your mains power

  • Do the test when you’re not using a lot of energy, e.g. don't do it when your tumble dryer is running.
  • Take a reading, wait 5 minutes, then take another reading.
  • Your meter reading will change, but if it’s gone up by more than 5kWh then something odd might be happening.
  • Try and work out if there’s a particular appliance that’s using a lot of electricity.
  • If there’s nothing obvious, get in touch with us so we can help.

What sort of issues can smart meters have?

The most common thing we see are connection issues. Just like a mobile phone relies on a wider network, smart meters use a third-party network to send and receive data.

If you live in an area with limited mobile signal, or your smart meters are located in a signal “dead spot” (e.g. a basement with thick stone walls), we can sometimes have issues communicating and receiving data.

It’s like your mobile phone - sometimes it might not send or receive a message, but at some point it will connect again and that message will then be delivered.

The key thing is that - just like a phone - although a meter might not have a signal, it will still be functioning as normal

We understand that it’s frustrating to have to give readings in this case, but the problem isn’t with the meter itself. If we do manage to get a signal from the meter we can usually fix most issues remotely.

What about In-Home Displays (IHD), do they break?

This is another very common issue. Like meters, the majority of problems we see here are communication related, e.g. your IHD is more than 10m away from your electricity meter, or separated by a thick wall.

We’ve got a self-diagnosing tool that can help fix issues with your IHD available here.

We’re also working on building our own version of the IHD, the Octopus Home Mini. It takes all of the basic features of an IHD and turbo charges it with some Octopus magic. Find out more and join the waitlist here.

Published on 14th May 2024 by:

image of John Szymik

John Szymik

CEO of Octopus Energy Services

Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!