Some consumers fear that having a smart meter could stop them changing gas or electricity supplier
Over the last few weeks, the Daily Express has been running a series of articles investigating smart meters, the benefits they bring to customers and claims around their safety, as part of the Great Smart Meter Debate.
By 2020, the Government wants the new meters installed in every home across Great Britain.
There is little doubt that smart meters can save consumers money. What’s more, they will put an end to estimated bills by ensuring consumers only pay for as much energy as they’ve used.
But some people are worried that smart meters make it hard to change energy suppliers. If this is the case, it could mean that consumers end up staying on more expensive energy tariffs because they don’t want the hassle of switching supplier, and therefore won’t save as much money as they had hoped.
Jane Lucy is the CEO of energy switching service Labrador, which helps customers change gas and electricity supplier. She has seen first hand how smart meters can be a boon to consumers.
Being able to switch suppliers easily could mean cheaper energy tariffs for consumers
“When you can see in near real-time how much energy you’re using, it’s easy to determine the cost of individual appliances and settings,” she says.
“With a smart meter, people will no longer overpay due to estimated bills.”
Jane explains that more often than not, people stay with the same energy supplier for many years – meaning they fail to take advantage of cheaper tariffs.
“There are lots of reasons people are sometimes reluctant to switch energy supplier,” she says.
“The main issues are that people think it will be time consuming, they see energy as boring or they find it hard to understand how to switch.”
However, she points out that shopping around can lead to a better deal, and that in her experience, consumers can save as much as £570 a year by switching – a significant amount for most people.
Jane adds: “For most households, energy is their second-most expensive bill after paying rent or a mortgage, so it makes sense to save as much money as possible.”
But what of claims that switching suppliers is deliberately arduous and can tie existing customers to expensive tariffs for longer – and that smart meters can further complicate the process?
Certainly, the first generation of smart meters currently being installed use a number of different networks, depending on their manufacturer.
This may mean that switching energy suppliers could make customers temporarily go back to giving manual readings, or that they might need a new smart meter installed which is compatible with their new supplier.
Thankfully, Ofgem, the government regulator for gas and electricity, says these issues will soon be a thing of the past, and that communication problems between smart meters and energy companies will no longer be a sticking point.
Ofgem explains: “This is because the Government has appointed a company – the Data Communications Company (DCC) – to establish a new national infrastructure that will enable communications between smart meters and all energy suppliers.”
Ofgem says that by next year, all smart meters – including ones installed early on in the rollout – will also be able to connect to the same networks.
First-generation smart meters are expected to be connected to the new national infrastructure in the first half of 2019.
“This will give everyone the flexibility to switch between suppliers without losing smart features,” Ofgem adds.
Soon, all smart meters will work on a central network, which will make switching even easier
While Jane Lucy believes that different energy suppliers’ smart meters using different networks could make customers less likely to switch, she says users can still find out which suppliers use the same networks, making any switch more straightforward.
Plus, she adds: “Soon, all smart meters will work on a central network, which will make switching even easier.”
Better still, Jane believes that savvy consumers could benefit from an additional plus side to having a smart meter installed.
“Getting a smart meter also means you could save money by using more renewable energy. Because renewable energy isn’t stored in the grid, it needs to be used up quickly after it’s been generated,” she says.
“Therefore, households could be offered renewable energy at cheaper rates, to ensure energy companies use it up.”
While it is true that not all smart meters can be read by all energy suppliers at present, Ofgem believes things will become easier for consumers who want to switch.
It adds that energy companies must inform consumers looking to switch to their services if there is a potential compatibility issue.
However, suppliers are expected to start installing second-generation meters later this year, and soon all suppliers will be able to operate the newer meters.
In short, says Ofgem, owning a smart meter shouldn’t prevent consumers from changing energy supplier – and the process will become smoother in the coming months. “If you have a smart meter, you can shop around and switch supplier as you did with your previous traditional meter,” it says.
In conclusion, switching energy supplier with a smart meter is not as hard as some people think – and is set to get a lot easier in future.
‘Having a smart meter installed in my home was a doddle’
Mervyn Lightning was worried about having a smart meter fitted – but was pleasantly surprised
Mervyn Lightning was intrigued by the prospect of saving money on his energy bills – but was also concerned that it would be difficult to have the technology installed.
“I thought I’d get a smart meter because you can keep an eye on how much energy you use and what you spend,” says retired cleaner Mervyn, 57, who lives in Beeston Regis, Norfolk, with his wife, Alice, and dog, Alfie.
“It sounded like a good idea, especially when you’re counting the pennies like I am. But I’d read up on them beforehand and did wonder how long it would take to have one put in.”
Mervyn Lightning and wife Alice were impressed by their smart meter’s installation process
“After I called my supplier, they sent someone to fit the meters within weeks,” he explains. “The fitting was done quickly.
It took less than a day to have both the gas and electricity meters installed in my home and there was very little fuss.
“The installer showed me what to do and how to use the in-home monitor, which was a godsend and very helpful. It shows me how much energy I’m using.”
Now Mervyn is glad that he had a smart meter installed.
“The installation really was a doddle and it’s a relief to not get estimated bills any more because I can keep an eye on how much money I’m spending,” he says. “That’s a big weight off my shoulders.”
Mervyn is keen to recommend smart meters to his friends now that he knows how easy they are to install.
“Overall, upgrading to a smart meter couldn’t have gone more smoothly,” he says.
“I was pleasantly surprised and would definitely recommend it. Far from being a hassle, having a smart meter has made my life much easier.”
This article was written in partnership with Smart Energy GB for express.co.uk
Smart Energy GB is a government-backed organisation tasked with informing Great Britain about the benefits of the smart meter rollout.
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