Image Smart meter tariffs - here's everything you need to know
Image Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

Smart meters are currently being rolled out to every home, farm and business in Ireland. And with the rollout of smart meters comes smart electricity tariffs. But what exactly is a smart tariff and can they help us cut down on our energy costs?

After a fair few delays and false starts, ESB Networks began rolling out smart electricity meters in late 2019 under the direction of the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) - Ireland's independent energy regulator. 

The plan is to have every premise in Ireland upgraded to a new electricity meter by the end of 2024.

And with the rollout of smart meters comes the launch of smart electricity tariffs.   

So, what exactly is a smart meter, what's a smart tariff and how is it going to impact households? 

Here's everything you need to know.

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are the “next generation" of electricity meter, according to the CRU.

Unlike older meters, smart meters can communicate directly with your energy supplier and send them near real-time data about your energy usage.

Data will usually be sent over to your supplier once a day around midnight. However, you'll have the option to provide data on your consumption to your supplier every 30-minutes if you want, allowing for more valuable insights into your energy usage.

Customers should also, in theory, be able to see figures for day, night and peak-time energy usage once signed up to a smart tariff.

How does a smart meter work?

A smart meter has a small transmitter and antenna, similar to what you would find in a mobile phone, and uses mobile phone technology, specifically the older and widely available 2G network, to send data on your energy usage to your supplier.

What are the benefits of smart meters?

1. Reduced energy consumption 

Smart meters allow you to see exactly how much energy you’re using in near real-time via your smartphone, tablet or online account. This means you'll have way more information and insight into your energy usage throughout the day, which should help you to reduce your consumption. This is provided you're signed up for a smart tariff, or 'time-of-use tariff'. In the near future, you'll also be able to see your energy usage in real-time via an in-home display unit.

2. Lower carbon footprint 

Using less energy means you'll be lowering your carbon footprint and doing your bit to help Mother Nature.  

3. No more estimated bills

As smart meters can communicate in near real time, they will also reduce the need for estimated bills, meaning ESB Networks won't have to come visit your home to take a meter reading four times a year. Instead each bill you get will be based on accurate, up-to-date energy usage - meaning you'll only ever pay for what you've used going forward. Nice!

Remember that if you haven’t had your meter read in a while, it’s important to submit one regularly yourself. The pandemic has meant it’s more difficult for ESB Networks and Gas Networks Ireland to come to take their own readings, which they usually try to do four times a year.

4. Better information on your energy bills

Your electricity bills will also become 'smart' too. 

Your bills will be able to provide you with lots of invaluable information on your energy consumption, year-on-year comparisons of your energy usage, helpful graphs, as well as hints and tips to help you manage your energy better.

You'll also be able to choose your own billing date with most suppliers and decide yourself if you want to pay monthly or bi-monthly.

5. Better customer service 

The new smart meters will also allow ESB Networks to find and fix faults quicker. They will also enable you to switch electricity supplier and move premises more easily.

6. More options for prepay customers  

If you’re a prepay electricity customer, there are particular benefits for you.

Your energy supplier may be able to offer you new and more flexible ways of topping up your meter that mean you don’t have to visit a shop. You’ll also be able to see your balance on your in-home display unit, so you won’t unknowingly run out of credit, and in the future you should be able to set your meter to automatically top up, so you won’t be left without power if you run out of credit at night or when the shops are shut.

7. More tariff options 

Smart meters will give you access to a wider range of tariffs and services, which wasn't possible with the older meters, some of which could save you money (see more on this below). 

Will my smart meter help me save money?

Back in 2009, around 8,000 smart meters were installed around Ireland as part of a trial to test their effectiveness.

The results showed that households were able to reduce their consumption by up to 3% on average, but in some cases reductions of as much as 8.8% were recorded during peak times.

So, if the trial is anything to go by, you should be able to save money with a smart meter and the CRU says that all households should be able to save about €20 to €30 a year through reducing their energy consumption alone.

However the real savings will come with the launch of smart tariffs or 'time-of-use' tariffs.

Smart tariffs

To coincide with the rollout of smart meters, smart tariffs or so-called 'time-of-use' tariffs are being rolled out by some of the main electricity suppliers, which could help households save even more money on their bills.

At the moment energy suppliers usually charge you the same price for your electricity throughout the day (although those with a night saver meter will be charged a separate night time rate).  

However, with the rollout of smart meters, energy suppliers are now able to offer consumers electricity deals with multiple different tariffs to encourage you to move your energy usage to times when electricity is cheaper to produce.

For example these tariffs might charge you a premium price for the energy you use at peak times between 5pm and 7pm and a lower rate for electricity consumed at off-peak times. And a third, much lower rate could be used for night time consumption between 11pm and 8am when electricity demand is usually at its lowest. A fourth rate could be charged for energy used over weekends and bank holidays. Special tariffs for those with electric vehicles can also be offered.

And as renewable energy like solar and wind continues to make up an ever greater part of our electricity generation, you could even be charged a lower price for your electricity on sunny or windy days, when energy supply is in abundance and cheap to produce.

In other words, the price you're charged for your electricity going forward will more accurately reflect the actual cost of generating it at any given time. And since you’ll be able to monitor your consumption yourself in real-time, it’ll be much easier to move your usage to off-peak times to take advantage of the lower prices.

Although smart tariffs are still in their infancy, over the coming years expect lots of different tariffs and charging structures to become available, helping energy customers to choose a tariff that's best tailored to their energy needs and usage habits. 

When can I sign up to a smart electricity tariff?

Smart tariffs are now being rolled out by all the main suppliers with Electric Ireland and Bord Gáis Energy having launched a range of smart tariffs last year. 

Both suppliers even offer tariffs with the option of FREE electricity at certain times over the weekend!

However, you'll need to have a smart meter installed first before you can sign up to a smart tariff. 

You'll also need to give explicit consent to have your data shared with your energy supplier before you can get the full benefits from your smart meter. So if you have one installed, chat to your supplier to check it's turned on.

Make sure you choose the right tariff

Although smart tariffs offer the lure of cheap or even free electricity at certain times of the day or week, the upshot is that you'll pay a higher price for your energy at other times. Sometimes much higher.

Before choosing a smart tariff it's really important that you know how and when you use your electricity so that you choose the right tariff for you. Otherwise you could end up paying more for your energy each year. 

It's a good idea to chat to your supplier before signing up to a smart tariff to see if they can give you any overview or insight into your energy usage. Also, make sure to ask your supplier what online services, tools and apps they have available to help you monitor your usage after you sign up to a smart tariff. As it'll be largely pointless signing up to one otherwise.

Is there a cost for getting a smart meter?

There'll be no upfront costs to households. 

However, according to the CRU, replacing every premises in the country with a new smart meter will cost over one billion euro.

Like other energy infrastructure projects, the cost for upgrading meters will be recouped over time through the charges paid by suppliers, and in turn customers, for the use of the electricity network.

However, the CRU says it has done extensive analysis of the plan and is happy that the investment represents good value for money when you take into account all the longer-term savings. 

What are the timelines for the rollout?

The rollout of smart meters began in counties Cork, Laois and Kildare in late 2019 and expanded to parts of Dublin and Meath at the beginning of 2020.

It will continue on a phased basis until the end of 2024 by which time every home, farm and business in Ireland should have a new smart electricity meter installed.

At the moment around 750,000 meters have already been replaced and approximately 500,000 more will be installed every year over the next four years. However only around 10% of meters have been activated.

The initial focus will be on those homes with the oldest meters. However customers can apply to ESB Networks or their electricity supplier for a prioritised installation. You’ll need to quote your 11 digit MPRN number when doing so. This can be found on your electricity bill.

What happens when your smart meter is being replaced?

When it's time for your meter to be upgraded, ESB Networks will write out to you in plenty of time telling you everything you need to know.

If your electricity meter is outside your property and can be accessed easily, you don’t have to be at home while it's being replaced. If your meter is inside your home, ESB networks will arrange an appointment with you.

The meter exchange itself should take no more than 45 minutes or so and all Covid safety rules (if applicable) will be closely followed during installation.

Once the meter is installed, you should be able to sign up to a smart tariff almost immediately, though in some cases you may have to wait up to 30 days in order to give ESB Networks time to start communicating securely with your meter. 

Potential game-changer?

The much-anticipated rollout of smart electricity meters in Ireland has the potential to be a game-changer for Ireland’s energy customers and suppliers alike.

For customers, the ability to monitor consumption in real-time could help many households improve their energy efficiency, lower their carbon footprint and reduce their bills.

Smart meters should also bring peace of mind when it comes to energy costs, as well as the convenience of not having to submit meter readings manually.

However, to reap the full benefits of smart meters and tariffs, smart tools and apps and online services will also need to be rolled out by suppliers to help customers view and understand their energy usage better - and this is still in its infancy.

Switch and save 

Whether or not you have a smart meter remember that a quick and easy way to save on your bills is to switch supplier with bonkers.ie.

We compare all tariffs, both smart tariffs and normal tariffs, across all suppliers in the market and can help you sign up to a new deal in just minutes.

Head over to our energy price comparison service right here on bonkers.ie and start saving today.

If you don’t feel like switching suppliers but want to save, here’s a list of helpful articles that will help you reduce how much you spend on your monthly household bills.

      Do you have any questions about smart meters or tariffs? We’re always here to help! Feel free to comment below or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.