By Lauren Pope, content editor at uSwitch.com

Could you send 13,000 meter readings a year? You’d get an accurate bill, that’s for sure, but by my calculations (at an average 10 minutes a reading) it would take you 2166 hours, or 180 days a year to do it.

However (as I learnt yesterday at an event organised by First Utility), that’s just what a smart meter does. An electricity smart meter takes 12720 meter readings a year, while a gas smart meter takes 365.

The readings are sent straight to the energy supplier automatically so there’s no need for someone to come and take it for you – and you always get accurate bills. Plus, they could help you to cut your energy costs by giving you lots of data and information about how much energy you’re using and when you’re using it. (According to First Utility, one of its customers saved £600 in the first six months alone, another cut his bills by 50%.)

If you’re thinking ‘I like the sound of that’, then I have good news for you: we’re all getting smart meters by 2020 and, if you’re really keen, you might even be able to get one now.

First Utility is a relatively new energy company it has made its mark by offering smart meters to its customers since it was launched in 2008, and introducing its ‘Smart as Standard’ tariff in October 2010.

But is First Utility ahead of the curve or jumping the gun when it comes to smart meters?

The government has yet to set the technical specifications which smart meters will have to meet for the 2020 roll-out, so the meters First Utility is installing may not be compliant when they are decided.

First Utility’s Darren Braham explained that this isn’t a big issue for customers – you’re not charged directly for the cost of installing the meter so you won’t lose out or pay any extra if you need another one.  The cost of the meters themselves and the installation (around £240) are factored into the rates the company charges. With no upfront payment so no real risk in diving in and getting a smart meter now.

Interestingly, the meters are not owned by First Utility but by National Grid OnStream  – First Utility then rents them back, and it is these rental charges that form part of the rate you pay.  (Metering charges are a feature of any energy bill whether you have a smart meter or not.)

A concern that many people have around smart meters is the security and privacy of the data it gathers and sends to the supplier. First Utility says that the data is encrypted when it’s sent and is also subject to the same data privacy laws as normal – it will only be shared if you explicitly give your permission.

Another question that often comes up is whether you can switch your energy supplier when you have a smart meter. The rules for 2020 have yet to be confirmed, but it could well be a very simple process because all the data will be held by a central office rather than by the energy suppliers individually.

For now though, if you were to switch to First Utility and a smart meter and then decided that you’d like to switch to another energy company, you’d be free to do so. However, your smart meter wouldn’t stay smart – it would revert to being what’s known as a ‘dumb’ meter, which means you have to go back to giving meter readings again.

Is there anything else you’d like to know about smart meters? Post your questions here and we’ll do our best to find out the answers.

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