On January 1, 2020, the UK Government introduced a scheme known as the Smart Export Guarantee or SEG. So, what is SEG all about? As a replacement of the Feed-In-Tariff, which existed earlier, the SEG was introduced to incentivize energy exports.

Under this scheme, the government actively supported the carbon heating generators and paid them for exporting surplus energy back to the grid. Further, the smart export guarantee and benefits also applied to homeowners who used solar panels to generate electricity. However, to be eligible, a smart meter was a prerequisite.

That is because smart meters and solar panels have always paired well together. Why is this the case? To know more about smart meters, solar panels, and the interrelation between the two, stay glued to our post till the end!

What are Solar Panels?

Solar Panels are known by different names: solar PV panels, photovoltaic panels, solar cell panels, etc. So, how do solar panels work, and how do they generate electricity? To put it simply, most solar panels use the sun’s energy for electricity generation through the photovoltaic effect.

The panels use crystalline silicon cells or thin-film cells for this purpose. These cells are connected in series and are joined with a PV junction box. It is through the box that solar energy, as electricity, is supplied to households.

The three common types of solar panels are Mono-crystalline panels, Poly-crystalline panels, and Thin-film solar panels.

According to a report, nearly 9oo,000 households across Britain have a solar panel installation. Further, the report found that households situated in the south of the UK benefit the most from solar energy.

What are Smart Meters?

Energy Usage MeterThe function of smart meters is to measure and record energy usage levels. In this regard, they are very similar to traditional energy meters. However, a smart meter is a digital device that can record the energy consumption levels and send the data regularly to the utilities keeping track of the same.

In the UK, smart meters relay data using the DCC, a nationwide communication network.

A smart meter can even send data every 15-60 minutes. Consequently, this eliminates the need to take precise meter readings towards the end of a billing cycle. Further, most smart meters come with a home display that can keep you updated about the amount of energy consumed in a day. In this way, by keeping tabs on your household’s daily energy consumption, you can save energy.

Further, some smart meters can also alert energy suppliers in the area about power shortages and outages. That allows suppliers to resolve issues quickly and get the power supply restored as soon as possible.

In the UK, two types of smart meters are very common: First Generation Smart Meters and Second Generation Smart Meters. Take a look at what they are:

First Generation Smart Meters

Also known as SMETS1, the first generation smart meters were the most commonly used smart meters. However, they are characterized by a major drawback. If you switch energy suppliers, the first generation smart meter will go unresponsive or ‘dumb’ and stop relaying energy consumption data to the new supplier.

While this defeats the purpose, there’s still a silver lining. The display will continue to provide you with data about your daily energy consumption, making it easier for you to track the readings manually. Nevertheless, a SMETS1 upgrade is in the pipeline to make the smart meter compatible with multiple energy suppliers and prevent them from going numb and unresponsive upon a switch.

Second Generation Smart Meters

Popularly known as the SMETS2, the second generation smart meters are advanced versions of their predecessors. These meters ensure optimum compatibility with multiple utilities. So, even if you switch to a new energy supplier, the SMETS2 can relay energy consumption data to the new supplier via the DCC.

It’s a bit hard to distinguish between SMETS1 and SMETS2. So, how will you know which type of smart meter you have got? Before 2018, the UK only had SMETS1 meters. If your smart meter was installed before 2018 or in early 2018, the chances are that you have a SMETS1 meter.

Smart Meters and Solar Panels: The Connection

Many solar energy-powered households in the UK used to face a problem. Since the meter readings used to be estimated, their energy bills were always approximate and never accurate. It made things difficult for both the energy supplier and the households involved.

To counter this problem, the UK government introduced a combination of solar panels and smart meters. By pairing them both, it became possible to keep household owners informed of their solar energy consumption while also letting them know how much national grid electricity they were using.

The smart meters pass on the same data to energy suppliers through the DCC, a communication network which the UK government created solely for this purpose. Further, it was found that the smart meters were very efficient in tracking the amount of energy that households were feeding back into the grid, enabling the government to provide incentives under the smart export guarantee.

The Working Mechanism

This is how the combination of smart meters and solar panels works:

  • The smart meter will monitor solar energy consumption information during fixed intervals (every 15, 30, or 60 minutes, depending on the frequency).
  • The information is then passed on to the energy supplier directly via the DCC.
  • The smart meter might sometimes relay the information to a communications company that serves as a go-between the smart meter and the energy supplier.
  • The energy supplier tracks the information received over a billing period.
  • Households are then sent accurate energy bills, in keeping with their solar energy consumption over a month.

Therefore, the solar panel-smart meter integration paved the way for efficient tracking of solar energy consumption.

Which UK Energy Companies Follow This Model?

House Energy MeterBy 2025, the UK government has mandated that every renewable energy and non-renewable energy supplier must offer their customers households with a smart meter. Given this mandate and the SEG, it is very likely that every energy company will have to pair its energy supply with a smart meter.

According to a 2019 Smart Meters Statistics Report, in the third quarter of 2019 alone, over 1,068,600 domestic smart meters were installed by large energy suppliers across the country. Additionally, around 20,800 non-domestic installations were also carried out.

Some of the energy companies across the UK have already embraced the solar panel-smart meter model, and they are as follows:

  • EDF Energy
  • British Gas
  • First Utility
  • Ovo Energy
  • Utilita
  • Bulb
  • Octopus

What are the Benefits of Smart Meters?

The benefits of smart meters are multi-fold. Some of them include:

  • Accuracy: Given their ability to regularly monitor energy usage, a smart meter can equip homeowners with accurate and real-time data.
  • Cost-Effective: Due to improved accuracy, smart meters make it possible for solar energy suppliers to send households energy bills of the right amount. Further, customers need not pay the meter reading costs associated with the traditional electricity and gas meters.
  • Reduced Energy Wastage: Household owners can use the information provided by the smart meters to reduce their energy consumption. A lot of energy can be saved in this process.
  • Safety: All smart meters adhere to safety regulations and are safe to use.
  • Environment Friendly: The UK government introduced smart meters as a part of its initiative to establish a national grid that can provide efficient, renewable, and reliable energy to households across the country.
  • Lower Tariffs: Nowadays, an increasing number of electricity suppliers in the UK have begun to offer discounts on the tariffs to households with a smart meter fitted.
  • Incentives: As mentioned earlier, households with solar panels installed can become eligible for incentives under the smart export guarantee upon having a smart meter installed to measure the amount of energy they export to the grid.

Does a Smart Meter have Disadvantages?

As is the case with any technological device, smart meters also have a couple of downsides:

  • Poor Connectivity: At times, smart meters might face signal issues, rendering them unable to communicate with the DCC.
  • Incompatibility: Even though many solar energy suppliers offer smart meters to households, quite a few still don’t support them.
  • Installation: Smart meters require professional installation services, irrespective of whether they are SMETS 1 or SMETS2. The process can take a couple of hours.
  • Occasional Inaccuracy: At times, the In-Home Display (IHD) may show inconsistent and inaccurate information that you need to be wary of.

Is it Compulsory to Have a Smart Meter?

Here’s the thing. Earlier this year, in July, the UK administration introduced a new regulatory policy. Under this policy, every major energy supplier will have to comply with the pan-nation rollout of smart meters.

Smart MeterThat means that by 2025, every household and commercial establishment across the UK should be offered a smart meter by their energy provider. If providers fail to do this, it will be considered a breach, and their licenses could be revoked.

Further, the administration has asked energy providers to ensure that households with SMETS1 installed are connected with a communications company to ensure their functionality even if customers choose to switch to a different supplier.

So, while it looks like it will be compulsory to have smart meters installed, you can still work around it. Many energy companies understand that customers have questions about smart meters. They have dedicated teams to handle your queries and walk you through the process.

How Will They Install a Smart Meter?

If you are willing to switch to the solar panel and smart meter combination, your energy provider will collaborate with third-party services for the process. Here’s what you can expect:

  • The technicians will first inspect your gas or electricity meters.
  • Post that, it is likely that they will shut down your power supply for a while.
  • They will follow the Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice.
  • As part of the Code, your energy supplier’s responsibility is to explain everything related to the smart meter, including how it works and how the information collected will be used.

To make things easier, you can consider installing a meter while fitting solar panels on the roof.

Do I Have to Pay for a Smart Meter?

This question is a bit tricky to answer. While it is your energy provider’s responsibility to give you a free smart meter. In any case, any overhead tariff will be accounted for in your energy bills. In this regard, a smart meter is very similar to traditional meters.

Are Smart Meters Safe?

Smart meters are very safe. Most of them are bound by the EU and the UK Safety Regulations. This means that they are subjected to thorough testing processes. For that matter, a nationwide study even found that most of the meters exceed the required safety standards by a significant margin.

Even the UK’s leading health organizations, like the Public Health England, have stated that the frequency range of these meters is less than that of other common appliances, like television sets.

What’s more, given that these meters transmit information over a super-private network, there are very few opportunities for anyone to hack into the transmission between your generation meter and the IHD.

Smart Meters and Your Feed-In Tariffs

This question gets asked very often: Will the meter affect my feed-in tariff? To answer your question: Yes, given that the SEG replaced the tariff system in 2020. However, you will find that the SEG tariff system is better due to the incentives you and other households are entitled to if you feed the surplus energy back to the grid.

Nevertheless, you can still benefit from the Feed-In Tariff scheme if you are still registered. Even in this case, you’ll have the chance to send your exported solar energy back to the national grid and get paid for it.

How to Read a Smart Meter Display?

Here’s a scenario for you to consider. Let’s say that your SMETS1 has lost connectivity and has stopped relaying energy usage information to your provider. In that case, you will have to take a manual reading. Thankfully, it’s very easy to take a reading.

You just need to choose the ‘meter reading’ section on your meter’s display to view the relevant information. If you face any issues, it would be best to get in touch with your energy provider.

You will find metering data covering power metrics like the voltage, current, and other related fields. Jot them down, and send them along to your power supplier.

Final Thoughts

While smart meters and solar panels are extremely useful technology on their own, their benefits double when used together. However, in recent years, the UK’s decision to make smart meters compulsory has been met with resistance from energy suppliers and citizens alike.

For instance, a BBC report showed that out of the 15 million smart meters installed in 2018, nearly 2.5 million were either faulty, defective, or un-operational, raising concerns about their effectiveness.

Nevertheless, smart meters do have their own advantages. This post discussed smart meters in detail, listed their pros and cons, explained their working mechanism, and illuminated the connection between solar panels and the meters.

Further, we covered important topics like the safety and cost of the meters, the difference between SMETS 1 and SMETS2, and how to read the meter. In the end, it boils down to personal choice. If you want to read more related articles, or if you want to know more, please feel free to reach out to us!