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Smart meters: what are they and can they save you money?

Posted on 2017-07-06

Smart meters: what are they and can they save you money? 

In recent years, the coverage of green and environmental issues has ramped up – in  print, online and broadcast media, as well as political discussions up and down the country. With this, and the growing influence of renewables as an alternative to traditional fossil fuels, , the dangers of climate change,global warming and the need for all of us to be more energy efficient have all become heightened.

Tenants now place much more emphasis on energy efficiency when it comes to rental properties, with an eagerness for lower utility bills and the desire to showcase green credentials two of the main reasons for this.

Last year, the rights of tenants when it comes to energy efficiency improvements were increased considerably. Effective from April 1 2016, tenants are now able to request consent from their landlords to carry out energy efficiency improvements to privately rented properties.

A landlord is only able to refuse consent if there is a very valid reason to do so. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of tenants to fund the work and the intention of the changes is that landlords will be met with no upfront costs, unless they agree to contribute.

It is, though, within a landlord’s interests to improve the energy efficiency of their rental homes, especially with the introduction of the Minimum Energy Efficient Standards (or MEES) earmarked for April next year. When the new regulations are brought into play, effective from April 1 2018, it will be illegal for a landlord to let a property that has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of lower than E- to new tenants.

This will also be applicable to all existing tenancies by April 2020. In other words, any landlords with rental properties that have an EPC rating of F- or G- will need to bring them up to the required new standards or risk them being illegal to let.

As a result, it’s in the best interests of both landlords and tenants for a rental home to be energy efficient and scoring highly on the EPC scale.   

Is it possible for tenants to monitor their energy efficiency?

As a tenant, one way you can monitor your energy efficiency and potentially keep your energy bills down in your rental home is by installing a smart meter..

There has been plenty of talk about smart meters in recent years – you have may have seen the adverts, narrated by Jim Broadbent, about the benefits of having one installed – but what exactly are they and how can you benefit from them?

Put simply, smart meters are gas and electricity meters which automatically send meter readings to gas and electricity providers. Rather than standard meters, which use decades old technology and require households to track their own readings and submit them to suppliers for more accurate bills, smart meters use a secure national communication network to wirelessly send your actual energy usage to the supplier.

They are also installed with a smart energy monitor to show you how much energy you are using in pounds and pence, and how energy efficient your home is. Real-time usage info, including cost and kWh use, is also displayed. 

The fact that meter readings are sent digitally to energy suppliers means, in theory, more accurate energy readings and more accurate energy bills. Under government plans, every home in Britain will have been offered a smart meter from their supplier by 2020. Smart Energy GB, the voice of the smart meter rollout, is working with major energy suppliers to help people understand how smart meters work and how they can help get gas and electricity under control.

The best bit is, smart meters will cost you nothing to install as that comes down to your energy supplier.  The meters are part of a Government-led upgrade programme to improve energy efficiency in homes across the UK.

So, to summarise, the main advantages are:

  • more accurate bills (rather than merely estimated bills or a man coming into your house to read your meter every so often)
  • a greater understanding of your energy usage (so you can change your energy habits accordingly)
  • the possibility of more innovative energy tariffs (the idea being that when energy suppliers have more idea of usage patterns, innovations can be introduced to make tariffs cheaper, easier to understand and more flexible).

What’s more, smart meters will help to bring the UK’s energy system into the 21st century. If low-carbon, efficient and reliable energy is going to be rolled out to all of Britain’s households, a smart grid will be needed – and smart meters are the first steps towards making that a reality.

There are, however, some issues with smart meters – and they have not proved universally popular among those who have already had them installed. One issue is signalling problems – if your meter is located in a place where signal is weaker (for example the basement) you may be unable to achieve an appropriate signal to send information remotely to your supplier. If this is the case, you won’t be offered a smart meter because the location of your meter is too inaccessible. Equally, some smart meters can lose smart functionality and some smart meters aren’t currently compatible with solar or microgeneration – if this is the case, your supplier will not be able to offer you smart meters just yet.

All of these issues are teething problems and are expected to be resolved at some point in the future, but like any kind of new technology smart meters are not without their flaws and issues.

However, as a tenant, they are a good way of working out for sure how much energy you are actually using and how much this is costing you. If you can see the direct impact your habits and lifestyle have on your bill, you can make the necessary changes to reduce your usage and lower your costs.  

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