What is the role of your electric meter?

You know you have an electric meter installed and you know those regular readings are important for your electricity supplier, as well as your electricity bills. But do you know your electric meter down to every last detail on its dial? Standard traditional electricity meters are gradually being phased out in favour of smart, more efficient meters for taking your electricity reading. So, let’s find out more about your electricity meter and how reading methods might change in future.

What is your electricity meter actually used for?

How well do you know how your electricity meter functions? Is the reading dial totally baffling to you? Well, here’s the place to find the explanations you’ve been looking for, so you can read that meter dial with confidence.

The purpose of your electricity meter is plain and simple: it takes an accurate reading of your electricity consumption, using those numbers to calculate your electricity bill. Once your electricity meter has taken its regular reading, these numbers are transferred to your electricity supplier.

In the past, you’ll likely have had employees from your electricity supplier visit your home to take your electricity meter reading straight from the dial. Now, with modern smart electricity meters, there’s no need for a supplier agent to come and take a reading manually. Instead, the reading result is transmitted directly to your electricity supplier, accelerating and facilitating the reading process.

Smart electricity meters allow your supplier to receive an accurate reading of your actual electricity consumption and bill you accordingly.

What are the different types of electricity meters?

In the UK, there are six different types of electricity meters:

  • Standard electricity meters
  • Dial meters
  • Digital meters
  • Variable rate meters
  • Prepayment meters
  • Smart meters

Below you’ll find some more detail on each type, to help you better understand how your electricity meter works and to decide which type of electricity meter is best for your home.

Standard electricity meters are the most common type of electricity meters in the UK and measure your energy consumption in kilowatt hours (kWh).

Dial meters work in a similar way to standard electrical meters, with reading based on several dials similar to a clock face, rather than simple numbers.

Digital meters display each reading on a screen, making these easier to interpret.

Variable rate meters allow you to consume electricity at a cheaper rate by using power at off-peak times.

Prepayment meters typically lead you to pay more for your electricity usage and limit your supplier, use and power flexibility.

Smart meters make it simple to see how much electricity you’ve used and mean you don’t need a representative from your supplier to take a manual dial reading at your home.

Who owns your electricity meter?

Although your electricity meter is installed in your home, it doesn’t actually belong to you or your landlord. In fact, your electricity meter is the property of your electricity supplier. You’ll find the details of your supplier on your energy contract or bill.

This means that your electricity supplier is responsible for ensuring that your electricity meter is working properly, no matter which type of electricity meter you have in your home. You’ll need to keep an eye on your electricity meter so that you can alert your electricity supplier if there seems to be an issue.

For example, you might notice that your electricity bill is unusually high all of a sudden - that might mean there is an error with the electricity meter that’s causing it to take an inaccurate reading. You’ll need your electricity supplier to fix your meter as soon as possible, in order to avoid paying for electricity that you’re not actually using.

Your electricity supplier is responsible for replacing your electricity meter when it reaches the end of its lifespan (around 30 years for standard meters and around 15-20 years for smart meters).

Smart electricity meters: who manages each reading?

In the UK, the Data Communications Company (DCC) handles transferring every reading taken from a smart electricity meter to the relevant energy supplier.

There’s a national infrastructure set up to ensure that your smart meter reading reaches your energy supplier, so that they can bill you according to your electricity usage.

Nationwide introduction of smart electricity meters

The UK government has requested energy suppliers to take ‘all reasonable steps’ to roll out smart electricity meters in homes up and down the country. The ultimate aim is to have a smart electricity meter installed in every home, meaning a manual in-home dial reading carried out by a representative from your energy supplier will soon become a thing of the past.

This will mean the entire national electricity reading structure is modernised with smart meters, facilitating accurate electricity billing and functional energy supply for all homes. Your energy supplier will still be responsible for installing, servicing and replacing your smart electricity meter as needed.

As things stand, the UK government has set the deadline for the smart electrical meter roll out for 2024.

Although the aim is to install smart electricity meters in all homes, you are not obliged to accept the installation of a smart meter unless you want one. The main advantage of a smart electrical meter is the ease of reading how much electricity you’ve used. This means you can easily monitor your own electricity consumption and check the reading against your bill from your electricity supplier.

If your electricity supplier insists that you need to have a smart electricity meter installed, you can contact the Citizens Advice Bureau for more information and support with deciding on whether to accept the smart meter installation or not.

It’s important to note that, in future, electrical energy suppliers may make cheaper prices for electrical power use available only for homes that do have smart electricity meters installed.

In summary

  • Smart meters transfer their reading directly to your energy supplier, meaning no in-home manual readings are necessary
  • All UK homes are set to have smart electrical meters installed by 2024
  • It’s your decision whether to install an electrical smart meter, but keeping your standard, dial, digital, prepayment or variable rate meter may affect your access to lower energy use prices in future