All you need to know about smart meters

Friday, 7 August 20209 minute read
Pure Planet
Energy Industry

We love smart meters. They’re the future. And increasingly they are the present. Here's a blog to answer every question you may have.

We love smart meters. They’re the future. And increasingly they are the present. Around four in ten homes across the country now have some form of smart meter and, post-peak pandemic, the smart meter roll out to homes is once again gathering pace. More on that in a moment.

The end of the Pure Planet’s smart meter pilot; the beginning of a new smart normal

First the news. We’ve just completed our smart meter pilot. This has been over a year in length and has involved our early smart metered Members. If you’ve been part of this — you may recall seeing some smart meter pilot communications — thank you very much. Your early pioneering has taught us a lot, and this will help us — and the wider energy industry — offer smoother, more reliable smart metering services in the future.

One thing you should notice immediately is the lack of monthly meter reading requests — if you have a fully functioning smart meters (if you have gas and electricity meters and only one is fully functioning you will still get meter read requests for both, for now). We admit it may have been a bit weird to have had meter reading requests sent in the past, especially when you know your smart meter has been sending data correctly — so thanks for bearing with us. That’s allowed us to cross-check readings, and sort a few things in the background.

Obviously, if there is a problem with data being sent to us from both of your smart meters, we will still continue to send you a monthly meter read reminder.

And if, for some glitch of a reason, you still get meter read requests in the future and you believe you shouldn’t, let us know through WattBot on your app or in your account. The smart metering programme is a technical challenge like no other for the whole industry, and every supplier, and it’s not been as smooth as anyone would have liked. So thanks for your patience with this.

Smart pilot results

What have we learned since we introduced our first ever second generation meter, SMETS2 meters as these are snappily known?

  • The smart metering eco-system is complex and there are several industry issue still to be ironed out
  • In Home Displays (IHDs) are a big source of contact to suppliers, mainly because of connectivity issues to the smart meters themselves — we’re looking to see if technology improvements will allow for better diagnostics, so we can see what is going wrong remotely
  • Despite the teething troubles, our Members are proving more keen on having and using smart meters than customers of suppliers elsewhere

Smart meter numbers in more detail

A little under half of our membership have smart meters. But the bulk of those meters are first generation smart meters, so called SMETS1 meters, which we’ve ‘inherited’ when those Members switched to us from other suppliers. Unfortunately, these early versions of smart meters can stop being smart when you move between suppliers, so you have to give meter readings again. It’s not just a Pure Planet thing, it happens as soon as you move away from the supplier who fitted the SMETS1 meter to any rival supplier.

Thankfully, this is changing and there’s a nationwide programme to enhance all SMETS1 meters to be fully smart, regardless of which supplier you chose. This will be done remotely, over-the-air, and you don’t need to do anything.

All suppliers are reliant on the central Data Communications Company, or the DCC as it’s more widely known, to do this. The upgrades to SMETS1 meters can’t come soon enough, and they’re currently expected to be completed by the end of the year.

We’ve installed SMETS2 meters to around 6,500 homes so far, in partnership with Magnum, our meter engineers. We deploy a couple of meter types depending on the property and the nature of the electrical supply to the building. Why? No one SMETS2 manufacturer yet offers all the functionality needed for every single situation — such as being able to cope with a 3-phase electrical supply.

The different types of In Home Displays and meters can cause suppliers problems

Around 4,000 householders with SMETS2 meters have moved to Pure Planet since our pilot began. These Members have come from a variety of suppliers, obviously, and bring with them an equally diverse range of meter types and a variety of In Home Displays, too. This means our engineers have to be able to fault find and fix hardware which is ‘different’. So we’ve learned a lot here too. Even just getting firmware updates and technical specs from each manufacturer for both meters and In Home Displays has been a steep learning curve, as everybody in the supply chain is doing this for the first time.

We also have something in the region of 50,000 SMETS1 households within our Membership — all ‘inherited’ from other suppliers. At Pure Planet, we chose not to fit any SMETS1 meters and waited to go straight to the more capable SMETS2 meters when they became available. Since December 2018, when regulations changed, suppliers have been told to phase out SMETS1 installations.

So far, around 10% of these have been upgraded to SMETS2 standards.

What does SMETS2 offer that SMETS1 doesn’t? Once the over-the-air software upgrades are made to SMETS1 meters, nothing — which is why the industry and the DCC are working to get the upgrades done as soon as.

Why you should get a smart meter

Smart meters are efficient — no more meter readings required — and accurate. They can help you save money, and help you understand how you use energy in your home better — and which appliances are more costly to run. Take a browse around Smart Energy GB’s website which explores these themes in more detail.

There are other important benefits. They are helping to modernise the national energy network, too. Having a clear picture of how much energy homes are using, at what times, means the grid can more accurately manage energy generation and distribution. And importantly, that helps combat climate change. It stops wasted generation reducing yours and the grid’s overall carbon footprint. The grid produces up to three cities’ worth of additional energy ‘just in case’. Smart meters will help stop that. As much as we love smart meters, we hate waste.

So smart meters aren’t just smart, they’re green too. If you haven’t got smart meters for both your electricity and gas yet, sign up — when you get the chance. You’ll be doing your bit for your wallet, your country, and the environment. Here’s a good guide to smart meters and how they work.

How do I book a smart meter with Pure Planet?

You don’t, for now at least. We come to you, and ask if and when you’d like electricity and gas, if appropriate, smart meters installed.

Currently, we’re focussing region by region and have several teams moving around the country to focus on different locations.

For Pure Planet, this has proved the most efficient way to get new meters to as many people as possible with the numbers of engineers we have.

But we’re ramping up, both the numbers of engineers and target meter installations for each month from now through into 2021. Post-peak pandemic, and as we grow, we aim to change this method and move to a direct booking system. This means you’ll be able to contact us and schedule a booking, rather than waiting to be asked. We’ll let you know when this service is available. Meanwhile, thanks for your understanding with this; we will get to you as fast as we can.

Looking to the future, there are lots of things you’ll be able to do with your smart meter, making home more efficient and even greener. We’ll come back to that in another blog on what smart meters can do for a smarter future soon.

Covid safety when your smart meters are being fitted by Magnum on behalf of Pure Planet

Meanwhile, here’s a quick reminder of what to expect if you’re about to have smart meters fitted. You can find more about more and ask questions on our Community.

There’s also a helpful video from Magnum Utilities, our meter partner.

During the pre-installation booking confirmation call:

We make additional checks about your home to understand if there’s anyone in the household with vulnerabilities, for example, and we’ll offer detailed advice about our Covid precautions, in line with Government risk assessment guidance. Members are asked to contact Magnum if anyone develops symptoms

Installation day:

  • Our engineer will double check that no one has had symptoms in past 14 days
  • Our engineers will wear PPE at all times — Mask, Goggles, Gloves, Shoe Covers
  • All surfaces touched are wiped down with anti-bacterial wipes
  • Hand sanitiser is used regularly. Our engineers will wash their hands regularly if Members are comfortable providing access to their sinks. Our engineer use their own towels to dry their hands
  • Social distancing guidelines are followed at all times; 2m distance
  • We ask Members to open windows/doors open for ventilation and to leave any internal doors open, where necessary, to avoid touching door handles unnecessarily
  • Our engineers will not make any physical contact — no handshakes, they won’t accept a cup of tea
  • Our engineer won’t run through the In Home Display demo (a government guideline). We send the instructions electronically instead. But if you know how to use a smart phone, you won’t find using an IHD difficult

Other considerations:

  • Our engineers follow quarantine rules, of course, which could mean short notice cancellations if an engineer shows symptoms
  • In the event of local lockdowns, we will follow government advice:

Leicester — installs were cancelled

North West — installs are currently continuing but are under review.