Utilities - General info

Smart Meters?

Metered utilities are water, gas and electricity.
  • Water and gas meters are analogue (mechanical) devices which show a physical digital display.
  • Electricity meters were also part analogue [but powered by electricity]: they are increasingly not analogue but wholly electrical.

Smartest First ELECTRIC:-
Electricity is different to the other utilities in that small changes to equipment or patterns of use can yield great savings!
  • If you have an old analogue  meter, it should have a numeric display and a rotating disc. The numbers show your reading in kWh and the speed of the disc indicates your current power consumption.
  • The smart equivalent will have no moving parts, only a chip, display and buttons. This chip records your usage in great detail frequently. The display can show various information, such as date/time, power use, any peaks, current(in amps)/voltage etc.
  • This data is of little use to a domestic customer, although the ability to display power consumption could [possibly] be. However the on-going information can be very useful to larger consumers.

Less smart GAS:-
  • New meters are identical to old meters, except for the addition of a tiny pulsing device, a chip and usually an optical interface. Again usage is recorded frequently but not in great detail (because there is only one way to consume gas).
  • This data is of practically no use to the domestic customer. Large users can however benefit from lower tariffs because the lower tariffs involve frequently changing rates and a smart meter can be reprogrammed with new/changing rates, OR can accurately record consumption in time blocks.

Not smart WATER:-
  • Smart water meters are available, with communication devices. However as far as domestic customers are concerned water and electricity do not mix and as far as I am aware; they are not mixed on domestic meters.

There is a section below which is concerned with the new Smart Heating Controls. Scroll downwards if you wish to see that now.

So what's the point?

  • The point is to communicate collected data to a central computer somewhere: removing the need to have meter readers and benefiting the supplier. Older SMETS1 meters communicate with their installer, while newer SMETS2 meters are due to communicate with a central data hub - DCC - instead. Also to a Home Area Network for use by the In Home Device/energy display. The HAN will most likely be provided by your home router (via WiFi).
  • SMETS1 were installed up to October 2018 and can be converted to 2 via remote re-programming. All meters should be fully compliant with all 2 requirements by 2020.
  • A lot more information can be stored accurately about your usage. This is beneficial in two ways: more complicated lower rated tariffs are available and erratic or wrong usage can be eliminated (by studying the data), thus saving money.
  • The ability of the chip to record everything, will make unusual patterns of use, due to e.g. theft, rather obvious. This is a great safety advantage for gas meters, where a disconnection can result in an immediate shut-off of supply.
  • It is true that some smart meters have a (remote) disconnect relay fitted. This may enable a switch from credit to prepay use, in some cases. If you have a smart meter, ask the fitter/supplier.
  • There is talk of future smart devices, e.g. a fridge, which will be able to switch off during expensive energy periods. This will be accomplished via your SMETS2 HAN/router.
  • Smart heating hubs [e.g. Nest] or Alexa type devices may in future be able to access SMETS2 data directly: enabling the creation of energy use timetables and patterns.

Other points

  • Electric meters - at the very least - are certified to record usage accurately for 10 years. When was the last time your meter was replaced [and does it matter]?
  • I imagine that non-analogue [that is smart] electric meters require less electricity to run than their ancestors.
  • Some smart meters do not have comms fitted because mobile coverage is so poor. The chip is happy to store around 6 months of data, which will eventually be read. This something that will be cured by SMETS2 (communicating via the HAN/router to the DCC).
  • Domestic water meters are also not fitted with smart meters/comms because of the difficulty of mobile penetration "underground" and because bi-annual inspection is a good thing.
  • Meter readers will still be required to a lesser degree, to look at certain meter sites.
  • Other forms of comms are used abroad but the UK used mobile for SMETS1.

Smart meters have 2 way comms so that they can be re-programmed by the central computer, should the need arise.A password is used for remote access, partly explaining why they may only work in a smart fashion with the supplier/owner. Otherwise they will operate in a dumb fashion, merely recording usage.

In Home Display (IHD) and Monitors
  • There are monitors available, which can display immediate power use and rough cost. The IHD comes with a newly fitted meter, whereas the generic Monitor usually requires that you clip a "sender" around the main electric cable. Both require batteries (something that is changing with SMETS2).
  • These are smart in the sense that they have a chip and display relevant information. However they are NOT the smart meters that we are all talking about. The IHD may not be transferable to your next metered home, again this changes with SMETS2.
  • When it comes to displaying current power use, this information is actually available from any meter. Not so readily, admittedly. Just as with calculating immediate cost, this can be done by counting the unit advance on the meter itself [and multiplying up].
  • Of course various Tier1/Tier2/Off Peak and Standing charge influences will not figure in the calculation!
  • Independent plug-in monitors are now available which again clip onto main electric cables. These devices are designed to communicate with your router and then to the internet. Information will be collected on the internet and shown via central software - at a small additional cost.

Smart Heating Controls/Hubs
  • There are now several competing versions of the above; try this link for a useful but restricted overview:-
  • These controls do not currently integrate with smart meters AFAIK. I could be wrong on this point though, so you will have to check for yourself for the latest developments.
  • If you have a small home the projected savings may not cover the cost of installation [unless you are rarely at home]. These controls are of most use to those of us with large homes, particularly if they need to be split into many zones. Also useful to owners of energy inefficient homes, since zones can be switched off at will.
    If you have a combi boiler (i.e. there is no hot water tank) any savings will only be available on the heating bills.
  • Worcester Bosch offer smart controls that communicate with their own boilers, thus increasing the efficiency of the boiler for heating. I believe that this is unique to Worcester Bosch (but not all models).