The pros and cons of smart meters – should you switch?

A smart meter can help you keep tabs on your energy usage, but is it better than a regular meter? We take a look at smart meters vs regular meters.

Home electricity smart meter in kitchen and stainless steel kettle
(Image credit: Malcolm P Chapman)

As we look to keep tabs on our energy bill, those who do not have a smart meter may well be thinking about whether they should get one – after all, they haven’t had rave reviews, with many people reporting glitches and inaccuracies in their energy bills.

But on the flipside, they can help you monitor your usage with ease and ensure your direct debit is accurate.

There has been a big push from electricity providers to get households to switch to a smart meter. These display how much energy you consume and where, which could help lower your bills. 

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According to the latest data government data, 33.9 million UK households have a smart and advanced meter in their home as of September 2023.  

However, smart meters might not be for everyone – some might choose to stick to their regular meter. If you are considering the switch, it’s worth being aware of the pros and cons of smart meters and what they will mean for your bills.

We explore which is better, a smart meter or a regular meter?

The pros of smart meters

Smart meters could help make your bills more accurate. Your energy use is transmitted to your supplier so they know exactly how much you’re using and what to charge you. This is also more convenient than having to submit your readings yourself every month.

If you get an in-house display alongside your smart meter you will also be able to see your energy use down to the penny. This could help you figure out how much energy you use when you turn on certain appliances, allowing you to discern which ones could be used less or swapped for more efficient models.

A smart meter could also make switching energy suppliers more straightforward. You wouldn’t have to submit a final reading – instead, they get it automatically before the switch takes place.

Before energy prices rocketed, some suppliers were also launching tariffs exclusively for homes with smart meters. So if you install one now, you might qualify for cheaper deals in the future.

Plus, you can spot what home appliances are taking a toll on your energy bill by seeing any sudden spikes on your smart meter, after using a certain appliance.  

Another potential benefit of having a smart meter is that you could be contributing towards the country’s energy security, and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. According to Cornwall Insight, smart meter customers may change their habits as a result of being able to see how much energy they are using. They may reduce or shift energy usage away from peak periods and lower their overall consumption. This means “they may be able to save money, facilitate additional renewable generation and reduce reliance on imported energy”, notes Anna Moss, senior consultant at Cornwall Insight.

The cons of smart meters

The government’s rollout of smart meters hasn’t been as smooth as it might have hoped. The deadline for offering them to all homes has been pushed to 30 June 2025.

This doesn’t mean all homes want them. Many people have refused, concerned about the amount of insight this gives energy suppliers.

There have also been concerns around smart meters being targeted by hackers, but this has yet to happen.

Your smart meter could also turn “dumb”, losing its functionality and leaving you with the task of submitting readings manually, defeating its purpose.

This is the case for millions of homes. If a household has switched suppliers and their new one isn’t able to operate the smart meter, or if they have connectivity issues, they will be unable to rely on them for automatic readings.

Other homes had the first generation of smart meters installed. Many of these no longer function properly and will need an upgrade.

The biggest downside to a smart meter is that your energy supplier could move you into a prepayment meter without your knowledge. If this happens, you’ll have to put money into your meter before you can use the energy and you will also be paying more as prepayment tariffs are more expensive. This is happening despite rules by Ofgem that require suppliers to discuss plans with customers before they are switched onto a different meter.

The pros of traditional meters

Many people are choosing to remain on traditional meters. This could be because they feel doing so gives them more control over the information they hand over to their energy supplier, for instance.

If the meter is accessible and customers are willing to submit readings every month, then it would come at no expense to them to share them with their supplier.

Plus, those on traditional meters are less likely to be switched onto a prepayment meter – the energy supplier has to notify you and arrange an appointment to get the meter fitted.

The cons of a traditional meter

Those choosing to remain on a traditional meter will have to submit their reading themselves, both for electricity and gas. If you forget to do so, you will receive a bill based on your estimated usage, which could be more expensive than what you actually owe. This would be extra inconvenient now when everything is more expensive.

You will get the money back if you overpay, but it could take weeks or even months before you do so and most importantly you won’t have it now if you need it.

Estimated bills could also lead to you underpaying, which might result in a hefty bill in future.

So which one is right for you? This will depend entirely on your personal circumstances. If you want to know exactly how much energy you’re using and where, and think this would help keep your bills down, you would greatly benefit from a smart meter.

They’re also the better option if you think you won’t be able (or might forget) to submit monthly readings to your suppliers.

However, they won’t be right for you if you have poor coverage in your area because then you’d be missing out on the convenient features.

On the other hand, if you think you’d be diligent about submitting monthly readings and are wary of sharing detailed information with your suppliers, then you might want to stick with a traditional meter.

Additional contributions by Ruth Emery

Nicole García Mérida

Nic studied for a BA in journalism at Cardiff University, and has an MA in magazine journalism from City University. She joined MoneyWeek in 2019.