Guide to smart meters and energy monitors
Do you have any idea how much energy you're using as you go about your day-to-day household activities?
With a smart meter or an energy monitor you can keep tabs on your energy consumption and start to work out how to lower it – reducing both your energy bills and your carbon footprint.
What is the difference between an energy monitor and a smart meter?
What is the difference between an energy monitor and a smart meter? A survey of Which? members* revealed that a third believe the two devices are the same -- whereas in fact they are very different.
Energy Monitors: offer you a means of monitoring your energy consumption Energy monitors are simple, hand-held, standalone wireless devices that estimate in real time the amount of electricity you're using. You can usually view this in units of energy used (kWh), cost, or carbon emissions. So, if you switch on your lights and kettle, and start up your dishwasher, you'll immediately see the increased energy consumption reflected on your monitor's visual display. Some monitors even allow you to set an alarm to alert yourself if you reach a particular consumption level each day.
These devices are provided free by some energy suppliers, or are relatively inexpensive to buy from shops such as Argos, usually costing between £20-100. They're easy to set up, and you can take them with you if you move house. All you have to do is clip a sensor onto a power cable connected to your electricity meter box, which sends information wirelessly to your hand-held device, which you can keep somewhere handy.
Energy monitors are NOT linked to your energy supplier, so there is no way your supplier can receive any information about your energy consumption via these devices.
Smart Meters: keep you and your supplier informed about your energy consumption A smart meter, on the other hand, is a more sophisticated electricity or gas meter that replaces your existing, standard meter. It provides an accurate reading of your gas and electricity consumption, using GPRS technology to keep your supplier informed of your usage in real time.
You can't buy a smart meter from the shops or fit it yourself. It has to be installed by a trained engineer from your energy supplier, and you can't take it with you if you move. Once fitted, however, your bills will be accurate readings rather than estimates – thanks to the instant communication between your household meter and your supplier – so you stay on track with payments. At the same time, you can check your consumption online at any time, enabling you to monitor your energy usage.
If you choose First Utility as your energy supplier, you will be fitted with a free smart meter and given access to an online account to view your daily energy consumption and monthly bills. Most other suppliers don’t currently install these meters, although Ofgem (Britain's regulator for the electricity and gas markets) wants to see smart meters in every home by 2020.
Does either device help you save money on your household energy bills?
Neither of these devices saves you money directly. You will only save money on your energy bills if you change your behaviour, using the information these devices provide to work out where you could reduce your energy consumption – and then making the effort to do so!