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What makes a smart meter so smart?

By Nicole Wilson

Everything you wanted to know about smart meters, but were too afraid to ask

Illustration of someone opening a great big handbook

What's a smart meter?

Illustrated map of green energy across the UK

Smart gas and electricity meters measure how much energy you're using at home. They're smarter than a traditional meter because they're able to send your meter readings straight to your supplier.

Smart meters are being installed by every energy supplier as part of a nationwide upgrade to the energy system. They help suppliers to forecast the demand for energy and source greener energy to meet that demand. So, as well as offering some pretty nifty home benefits, they're an important step towards managing our national energy better in the future.

What does a smart meter look like?

Is it one of these?

an In Home Display showing energy use

No, that's an In-Home Display, but they're a fun bonus.

Every smart meter comes with an In-Home Display (or IHD), which is a screen that connects to your new smart meters and your Wi-Fi at home. This screen receives energy data from your meter and shows how much energy you’re using, as you use it. It's useful for understanding more about where your energy goes and setting daily, weekly or monthly budgets for gas and electricity. It doesn't affect your energy directly. Think of it more like a display than a remote control.

Photo of a smart gas meter before installation

Smart meters physically replace your old metering equipment, and unlike an IHD, they're usually tucked out of sight. Maybe that's how they maintain their mystique.

You'll have separate smart meters for your gas and your electricity. Like a traditional meter, smart meters have a number that counts up to show how much energy you've used. The main difference is that the numbers are on a screen, instead of an analogue dial. You can still read them like your old meter if you want to, but your readings will be sent to us automatically.

Find out how to read your smart meter

What are the perks of a smart meter?

Smart meters come with a few built-in benefits:

Automatic meter readings

Your energy usage is sent straight to your supplier

More accurate statements

Wave goodbye to estimated bills

See your energy in pounds and pence

Use your In-Home Display to track live energy usage

Free installation

There's no charge for getting a smart meter installed

Green up the grid

Help suppliers forecast demand and source greener energy

At Bulb, we're only installing the latest SMETS2 meters, also known as second generation smart meters. That means you're free to switch away from Bulb in the future without losing any features on your smart meter or In-Home Display.

Will a smart meter save me money?

Your smart meter will make your bills more accurate, but it can't actively reduce the amount of energy you use. One of the main ways smart meters can save you money is through your In-Home Display, which shows your energy costs in real time. 

You can use your In-Home Display to see which appliances are the most expensive to run. Some appliances are on all the time, like your fridge/freezer, so you'll see the cost per hour for keeping your home running straight away. Switching an appliance on and watching for any changes on your IHD can help you to zero in on any energy-hungry gadgets in your home. This might inspire you to use them differently or upgrade to a more energy-efficient model, saving you some money in the long term. 

Being able to see how much you're spending when you boil the kettle or use the tumble dryer can help you to make small changes to reduce your energy usage and cut your bills. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) believes that by making people more aware of their energy, smart meters will save the average household around £43 a year on their energy bills by 2030. 

Setting a budget on your In-Home Display can help you to save some money, too. You can get your IHD to beep when you’ve reached your daily, weekly or monthly budget for gas or electricity as a reminder to switch off some appliances. 

We’ve also partnered with Samsung to help Bulb members with smart meters monitor their energy use in real time and control smart home gadgets from their phone. You’ll just need to download the SmartThings app (for Apple or Android) to get started. 

Will a smart meter change my tariff?

Your tariff won't change when you get a smart meter installed. But you might need a smart meter to be eligible for some tariffs. Like our EV Tariff, for example, which helps Bulb members with a smart meter pay a lower rate for electricity they use to charge their car overnight, when demand on the grid is low.

What happens on installation day?

Illustration of a smiling installation engineer arriving at a front door
We're committed to Ofgem's Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice, so an expert engineer will install your smart meters for you. We work with engineers from Siemens and Morrison Data Services to install our smart meters.

Your installation will take around 2 hours and involves removing your old gas and electricity meters and replacing them with new ones.

While we're adapting to COVID-19 safety measures, we'll be doing things a bit differently. We've outlined how we're keeping engineers and members safe during installations over on our blog.

Before your appointment:

  • Your meter will be physically replaced, so if you rent your property it's a good idea to talk to the landlord or homeowner.

  • If you share a fuse box with your neighbours, you'll need their permission ahead of your installation. That’s because their electricity and gas supply will be interrupted while your meters are replaced.

  • Make sure an adult who's over 18 can be home to let an engineer in, and stay at home until the installation is finished. The installation can take a couple of hours, but every home is different.

  • Your engineer will call on the day to confirm their time of arrival within your allocated slot. This is a good time to mention things like where they can park nearby.

  • Remember to find any keys that you need to access meter boxes and fuse switches.

  • Clear the area around your meters. An engineer will need enough space to work safely and see what they're doing. If your meters are high up or hard to reach then we'll need to know beforehand.

  • Switch off your electrical appliances and make sure you know how to boot them up again - things like reigniting a boiler pilot light or setting home security alarms will be easier if you plan ahead.

During the installation:

  • Make sure pets and kids are comfortable in another room while the installation takes place.

  • Your engineer will turn off your electricity and your gas for around 20 minutes each while they swap over your meters.

  • Your engineer will offer you an In-Home Display screen which can connect to Wi-Fi, so make sure to have your Wi-Fi password handy.

After the installation:

  • Your smart meters will be up and running so you can wave goodbye to manual meter readings.

  • It can take up to 48 hours for your In-Home Display to show your energy usage on screen for the first time. We'll leave some information with you on the day to help you make friends with your new IHD.

How can I get a smart meter?

Smiling smart meter illustration
Everyone is entitled to a smart meter but not everyone is eligible just yet. At Bulb we're only putting smart meters in homes where the installation is likely to be successful, and that depends on a few things. When you sign up for an installation, we'll check that we have the right meters for your home, that there's enough space for the engineer to work safely, and that your home has a strong signal from the smart meter network.

Check your eligibility and book a smart meter installation in minutes

If you're not eligible yet, don't worry. We're working hard to offer everyone a smart meter if they want one, so we'll invite you to book an installation as soon as we know it's likely to be a success.

We've answered some more popular questions about smart meters in our Help Centre.