20th March 2019
Smart meters: what they are, and why you should get one
Maddie Inglis, Social Media Manager
All your biggest questions, answered here: what a smart meter is, how to get one, whether they're safe (yup), and how much they cost (free!) Plus, all the reasons you should get one now to make the most of cheaper, greener energy.
Smart meters are here. These are energy industry game changers, and we’re buzzing about their potential. The technology will save UK consumers a lot of time (no more meter readings!) and with innovative electricity tariffs like our Agile Octopus and Octopus Go making the most of the smart meter tech, potentially a fair bit of dough too.
What are smart meters?
Smart meters are the next generation of metering technology. Not only will they save you the hassle of giving readings manually, but they have the potential to save you tons of money, and make your energy bills more accurate (no more estimates!) They'll also make you more aware of your energy usage (see how much you could save with our energy efficiency tips) and unlock a wealth of game‑changing tariffs.
How can I get a smart meter with Octopus?
The smart meter programme is at a big transition phase as we start fitting the latest generation of the meter, SMETS2, which doesn't yet work everywhere in the country. Do head to our CEO Greg's blog for the latest on some of these challenges.
If you would like us to prioritise you for an installation, please register your interest and we will be in contact over the next few weeks. If you would like one of our innovative tariffs, Octopus Go, Agile Octopus or Outgoing Octopus, please email email@example.com.
We'll fit SMETS2, the newer model, wherever possible, but these aren't yet suitable for some homes. If that’s the case, we'll fit SMET1s. What's the difference between the models?
So, are smart meters any good?
With a smart meter, you'll enjoy:
- No more manual meter readings – your smart meter will send them to us automatically. (Don’t worry, you can still spin our meter reading wheel of fortune once per month, per fuel.)
- No more estimated bills – as we take the readings ourselves, we never need to estimate how much energy you're using, meaning you’re always billed accurately.
- Efficient usage – you can see how much energy you’re using, and what it costs, through the In-Home Display.
- Smart tariffs – join the smart energy revolution! Try out one of our cheap, cutting-edge tariffs to save you money and carbon. There's agileOctopus, with different energy prices every half an hour, so you can start to use more energy at times when it’s cheaper. And our octopusGO tariff for electric vehicle owners offers a super-cheap rate for four hours each night, so drivers can charge up for next to nothing.
What type of smart meter should I get – SMETS1 or SMETS2?
SMETS2, the upgraded version, is what’s slowly being rolled out by UK suppliers now. SMETS2 tech is pretty new, so most suppliers, including us, are rolling out cautiously to make sure everything's working smoothly first.
The earlier model, SMETS1, is what the majority of UK installs were until March 2019. Suppliers are ramping up SMETS2 installs now because SMETS1 installations after March 15th 2019 don't count towards our smart meter quota (a target set for all suppliers by Ofgem). There’s nothing wrong with these earlier versions. SMETS1 meters are a great piece of tech.
So what’s the difference between the models?
The key difference between SMETS1 and the newer model, SMETS2, is that SMETS2 have the inbuilt functionality to let you change supplier without losing the meters’ 'smart' ability.
In the not too distant future, existing SMETS1 meters will slowly be upgraded so that they can gain their smart functionality back. Our latest understanding is that the Data Communications Company (or 'DCC', who manage and transfer all smart meter data) will be updating the software on all SMETS1 meters remotely (no engineer visit required) throughout the second half of 2020.
Read our smart meter FAQs
Can I have one now?
Anyone else who'd like a smart meter – register your interest here and we'll be in touch within the next few weeks with more information.
Will my smart meter work with Octopus?
If you have a SMETS1: We use the smart meters made by the company Secure. Secure also supply meters to Utilita, Shell, OVO, E.ON and Bristol Energy - so if you have a smart meter from them, and it’s a ‘Secure’ meter, it will work. (A different brand of meter from them unfortunately won’t.)
If you have a SMETS2: Yes, it will!
I’m leaving Octopus - will I be able to use your smart meter with my new supplier?
It’ll work if you’re leaving us for Utilita, Shell, OVO, E.ON, or Bristol Energy, but if not, it will again become “dumb”. We recommend checking with the new supplier to find out what your options are.
How do smart meters communicate?
Smart meters don’t need the internet to communicate. Instead, they work by using two wireless networks: the HAN (home area network) and WAN (wide area network). Which network they use depends on what they’re communicating with.
Your HAN is a secure network contained within your home that allows digital devices to communicate with each other. This network is used to allow your smart gas and electricity meters to communicate with each other, as well as with your in-home display.
When smart meters need to communicate with an energy provider, they use WAN. This secure network is similar to the one mobile phones use to send and receive data. It’s run by the Data Communications Company and overseen by the energy regulator Ofgem. This means it must comply with strict regulations to ensure smart meter data is kept private and secure.
My smart meter became "dumb" when I switched. Will it become smart again?
We expect that all smart meters will become interoperable (work with all suppliers) by the end of 2020.
SMETS1 meters were only designed to send data to the supplier who installed them, but ultimately all smart meter data will begin to be sent to a central body called the Data Communications Company (DCC). And hopefully, at this point your meters will become smart again.
Are smart meters dangerous?
The low-frequency radio waves used by smart meters are classed as safe (with emissions considerably less than TVs and mobile phones), and leading public bodies including the World Health Organisation have been unable to find any conclusive evidence of harm.
Are there any security issues?
Smart meter technology is being built with security squarely in mind and follow the highest encryption protocols. We keep our ear to the ground for the latest research into the viability of smart meters, and we’re confident that the technology will benefit all of us rather than causing harm.
Robert Cheesewright of Smart Energy GB (the government-backed agency promoting the smart meter rollout) has assured that the meters are securely encrypted, and even so, the only data stored on the meters is energy-related –
“your name, address, bank account or other financial details are not stored on the meter.”
Will I be able to get an old “dumb” meter if I want one?
Eventually, it’ll be virtually impossible to get a standard meter. Like classic car parts, they’re becoming scarce as the demand for newer, better technology increases. After all, it doesn’t make much sense to keep manufacturing obsolete technology. So if your standard meter breaks, your only option for replacement could be a smart meter. If you’re worried about this, get in touch with us. You’re not legally obliged to have a smart meter installed.
I booked an appointment before March 15th. Will I get a SMETS1 or SMETS2 meter?
If you have an existing smart meter appointment from before we put new bookings on pause, you may still get a SMETS1 meter.
While Ofgem have made SMETS1 non-compliant after March 15th, we've got to do the right thing by our customers.
SMETS2 installs are still really new, and there've been some early teething problems. These meters aren't connecting properly in every installation site.
If we do install a SMETS1 meter, the good news is – with SMETS1's remote upgrade due in a year or so, they’ll be functionally equivalent to SMETS2, so you can switch suppliers without losing smart capabilities.
If you'd prefer to wait for a SMETS2 appointment, do get in touch.
If you’ve got any other questions, get in touch and we’ll help.
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