Energy bills are a growing concern.
Many of us are making changes to our energy usage to keep our bills as low as possible, with smart meters ‒ which display how much energy we're using, and where ‒ a potentially useful aid in doing so.
But, not everyone likes smart meters. So what are the big pros and cons of each meter type?
Before moving onto the answers, consider our other articles about home energy savings, including oven vs air fryer, electric heaters vs radiators, wood burning stove vs central heating, fan heaters vs oil heaters, dishwasher vs hand washing, and our audit on how to save on energy bills.
Smart meter: Pros
There are a few selling points to smart meters. First, they should mean more accurate bills ‒ your energy use is transmitted directly to your energy supplier, meaning they know exactly how much to charge you.
Compared with having to submit those meter readings yourself, or having someone from your supplier turn up at the front door to get those readings, that will be preferable for many.
In addition, since you will be able to see your energy use in dollars and cents if you get an in-house display to go with your smart meter, it should help you to be a little more energy efficient. For example, if you can see precisely what it’s costing you when you leave lights on, or boil water unnecessarily, then it may push you into being a little less wasteful.
Since you can see how much each appliance costs you, it can also help you identify appliances you might benefit from replacing with a more efficient model.
In theory, switching energy suppliers is more straightforward too. No longer do you need to worry about sending your old supplier a final reading before the switch takes place since all of the relevant info is transmitted to them automatically.
Not only can smart meters help you make cost-saving changes to your habits, but they can also open up eligibility for money-saving schemes.
Smart meter: Cons
Some people believe that the meters are an invasion of privacy, offering energy suppliers too great an insight into your habits.
There have also been frequent warnings about smart meters being targeted by hackers, though it’s understood there have yet to be any actual instances of this taking place.
Then there is the risk of your smart meter going "dumb." This is when it loses the smart functionality, meaning that you have to still submit meter readings to your energy supplier.
Smart meters can suffer from connectivity issues. After all, you’ll struggle to use a smart meter properly if your coverage is patchy.
Traditional meter: Pros
Smart meters aren’t compulsory, so there are plenty of households actively choosing to remain on traditional meters.
Some will like the fact that doing so retains an element of privacy, meaning that their energy supplier ‒ or even other residents of the house ‒ don’t have such clear information on where the energy is being used.
If the meter is positioned in an easy-to-access location, and they are happy to carry out the readings each month, then sharing them with the supplier may not be much of a hardship.
Being on a traditional meter makes it slightly more difficult for suppliers to transfer the household onto a prepayment meter too. Suppliers have to actually notify you about the switch and arrange for the meter to be fitted, for example.
Traditional meter: Cons
The obvious downside of a traditional meter is that you have to take a hands-on role. Rather than the energy supplier getting an up-to-date reading of how much energy you’re using, it relies on you submitting readings from your gas and electricity meters to the supplier yourself every month.
It’s easy to forget to do this, in which case you’ll be subject to bills based on estimated usage. Clearly, an estimate is never going to be all that accurate, so you could end up paying far more ‒ or even far less ‒ than you actually owe.
Overpaying is far from ideal, particularly when money is tight. Yes, you will get the money back, but it may be that you could have benefited from having that money at your disposal in the months beforehand.
The situation is even more serious if you have underpaid, as you will then be subject to larger bills in the future to clear that debt and pay for your ongoing energy use.
Working out the correct form of energy meter for you will come down to how your approach to energy bills and usage.
If you are determined to keep your usage, and therefore your bills, as low as possible then a smart meter can be a fantastic asset.
The meter will help you see precisely how much using each appliance is costing, and can push you into changing your habits in ways which will reduce the size of your bills.
Smart meters also remove the effort involved in meter reading, since the information is shared directly with the supplier.
But, they clearly won’t be a good idea for everyone. If you have poor coverage in your area then you could miss out on the smart features.
Ultimately you will need to weigh up for yourself what is most important, and therefore which type of meter is best for your needs.
Ben Demers manages digital content and engagement at Kiplinger, informing readers through a range of personal finance articles, e-newsletters, social media, syndicated content, and videos. He is passionate about helping people lead their best lives through sound financial behavior, particularly saving money at home and avoiding scams and identity theft. Ben graduated with an M.P.S. from Georgetown University and a B.A. from Vassar College. He joined Kiplinger in May 2017.
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