How can I make the most of my smart meter and can it save me money on my bills?

Less than 40,000 of Ireland's one million smart meters are being used to their full potential. Here's everything you need to know about using a smart meter to its full potential
How can I make the most of my smart meter and can it save me money on my bills?

Once installed, the smart meter will send automatic readings to your supplier. Picture: iStock

What is a smart meter and why are they in the news?

Every property (business and residential) is getting changed to a smart meter as part of massive infrastructural investment. If you have not gotten one already, it’s only a matter of time until you are switched over from the traditional meter box with the rotating wheel to a digital smart meter that communicates with your energy supplier in 30-minute intervals (providing you opt-in to allowing your supplier to process your data).

Do I need one?

You do. Until smart meters were introduced, the only way of detecting what electricity was used at certain times of the day was if you had a day/night meter installed. Without a day/night meter, you were charged a flat rate by your supplier for the amount of energy you used within a billing period.

Regardless of whether you opt into data sharing or not, a smart meter eliminates those 'Estimated' (E) meter readings on your bill. Anybody who has ever had a series of estimated bills will know that they are a slippery slope to an unexpectedly large bill once the meter has actually been read. This happened to me a couple of years back, in the heady days of affordable energy prices, and I went from three bills of approximately €120 each to a massive €375 which was extremely unpleasant.

How do you use a smart meter? 

Every household uses energy differently.
Every household uses energy differently.

Leave it running in the background, there is no need to check the meter cabinet at all anymore. Once installed, the meter will send automatic readings to your supplier. To make the most of a smart meter you have to, first of all, opt into allowing your supplier to process your data, then you also have to opt into a smart meter or time of use tariff.

Time of use? Or TOU?

It’s the same thing, organisations love an acronym. A time of use tariff is actually similar to a day/night meter, where you pay different rates depending on the time of the day you use energy. The most expensive time of the day is generally between 5pm and 7pm, which is the precise time many people get home from work/school and think about making dinner.

Not all offer suppliers offer a TOU tariff that allows for higher prices at peak times. Some other options include simple day/night rates, a standard rate all week long with a free day of electricity on your choice of Saturday or Sunday, and there’s also an additional nighttime rate for people who have electric storage heaters.

Why are all smart meters not on smart tariffs?

The requirement to opt into data processing is for GDPR purposes and is the first hurdle for customers and suppliers to get over
The requirement to opt into data processing is for GDPR purposes and is the first hurdle for customers and suppliers to get over

The CRU says that approximately one million smart meters have been installed to date and that less than 40,000 of the smart meters that have been installed are being used to their full potential. The requirement to opt into data processing is for GDPR purposes and is the first hurdle for customers and suppliers to get over. Then it’s a case of selecting the smart tariff that suits your needs.

What tariff is right for me?

Every household uses energy differently and you really need to review your energy usage over at least a week before you can figure out what the best tariff is for you. The Home Energy Saving Kit is available to borrow for free from over 160 libraries across Ireland, so you can test it out before you opt into a certain price.

If you can set aside either Saturday or Sunday to batch cook your meals for the week ahead and do all your laundry and hoovering etc, then the free day of energy could be just the ticket for you. It’s probably not suitable for busy families with children and multiple washloads per day though.

While the day/night option might be attractive, be aware that it’s a known fire safety risk to run large appliances at night. If you intend to run a washing machine, tumble dryer, or dishwasher while asleep in bed it’s not something that the fire brigade recommends, and opting into a night saver tariff for this reason might not be the best idea.

Finally, smart meter rates are not as good value as regular rates at the moment and this has been the case for over a year now. For example, I've had a smart meter since last December but I'm not on a smart meter rate — I 100% would be if it was cheaper.

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