Do smart meters save money? I ran the numbers after installing one



Some time ago I decided to install a smart meter and was initially impressed – but does it save me money?

The countdown is now on for the rollout of smart meters across the UK.

The UK government recently announced a new regulatory framework from July, which gives suppliers until mid-2025 to replace traditional meters.

Annual installation targets will be set and failure to meet these targets will be a violation of a vendor’s license.

The latest figures show that 42% of homes have been fitted with a smart meter – some 23.6 million properties – but only 19.1 million of them are operating in “smart mode”.

About 4.5 million smart meters are in traditional mode because they cannot communicate via the network, have been installed in this mode or have yet to be put into service.

Smart energy meters have faced issues since the start of deployment, including connection issues and difficulties when customers switch providers.

Companies have also been accused of harassing customers to install smart meters and achieve their goals. I was one of those customers who gave in to persistent emails and had a smart meter installed in September 2019.

Although initially skeptical, I was quickly won over by the meter which gave us the information to start changing our household consumption habits.

But 20 months and a global pandemic later, am I still a convert?

How our energy use has changed

Although 2020 is the year of containment, our energy consumption has not increased.

As a household with two key workers, our two children were in school and I continued to work from home as usual while my husband went to his workshop.

The comparison of energy consumption over three years shows that the smart meter continues to make the difference.

We live in a four bedroom semi-detached house and year after year we use less fuel.

In October 2020, we used 30kWh of electricity and 402kWh of gas less than the previous year. And in October 2019, less than two months after installing the meter, we were already using 326 kWh less electricity compared to 2018.

Looking at the numbers in more detail for winter 2020, we were using a little more electricity (around 30 kWh to 60 kWh per month) but a lot less gas.

In December 2020, we consumed 540 kWh less gas than in 2019 despite teleworking.

This is because we installed an electric oil heater under my desk rather than tapping on the heater every day.

This was a direct result of the smart meter telling us that heating was costing us £ 4 per day, while heating was costing around £ 1.50.

How smart meters can save you money

Electric heating.  (Image: Shutterstock)

New habits

At first I was obsessed with the smart meter and for the first six months I checked it every day.

I knew how much a shower cost (20p for my long shower, 12p for the kids) and got bored if our daily electricity expenses were over £ 1.50.

But I have to admit that the novelty has faded, even though the COVID-19 pandemic meant we were tightening our belts financially.

I barely check the meter these days, but some habits have stuck. I continue to walk around the house, turning off the lights that everyone else in the family has left on.

And we’ve replaced our energy-consuming TV (£ 1.50 per day at peak times) with a second-hand, much more efficient TV.

We also decided not to rent a hot tub during the holiday season as we normally do as the year before it had cost around £ 5 per day in electricity to heat according to the smart meter which was £ 70 over fifteen days.

But we haven’t reduced the amount of laundry we do or the number of times the dishwasher goes, because while it would save energy and money, it would be a huge inconvenience.

The biggest change has been our use of heat. Instead of setting it on a timer, we only turn it on when we absolutely need it.

It’s usually for an hour-long blast and instead we rely on the wood stove a lot more. From a consumption point of view, this has significantly reduced our gas consumption, although there are environmental implications.

Notice: don’t want to install smart meter? Good luck with that!

Have I saved any money?

Overall, we seem to use about the same amount of electricity as before the smart meter, but a lot less gas. So, did it save us money?

It’s hard to judge because in September 2019, just before our smart meter was installed, our energy supplier reduced our bill from £ 88 per month to £ 82.03 per month due to our annual usage.

The price has remained at that rate ever since, although a recent email indicated that our bill would increase by £ 9 per month due to the wholesale energy price, but we have yet to see that change.

I think in the long run we’re going to save money because we definitely use less power so I think the meter is worth it.

Random meter readings.  (Image: Lily Canter)

Failure

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any problems.

Over the past nine months we have found that on most days the gas reading is blank on the meter and sometimes there is no data.

Turning it off and back on can fix this, but it’s a bit annoying.

I recently found out that you can reset your smart meter online and it seems to fix the problem, but it is irritating that you have to keep doing it.

I also don’t understand the information displayed on the energy supplier’s website, which seems to be recording meter readings on random days, or several times a day, rather than always every day (see photo above).

At some point, I’m sure we’ll need the next generation of smart meters and hopefully at this point the connection issues have been resolved.

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