Smart meters are currently being rolled out to every home, farm and business in Ireland with smart tariffs now available from some of the main suppliers. But what exactly will this mean for households?
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 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 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.
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 system, to send data on your energy usage to your supplier.
What are the benefits of smart meters?
1. Reduced energy consumption
Smart meters will allow you to see exactly how much energy you’re using in real time via an in-home display unit, smartphone or tablet. 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.
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 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 a meter reading 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 monthly or bi-monthly 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.
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.
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 and a lower rate for electricity consumed at off-peak times. And a third, much lower rate could be used for night time consumption 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.
Can I sign up to a smart tariff if I don't have a smart meter?
Unfortunately not. If you want to avail of the benefits of a smart meter tariff or time-of-use tariff then you must have a smart meter installed.
When can I sign up to a smart electricity tariff?
Both suppliers' plans offer the lure of free electricity at certain times over the weekend while Electric Ireland offers a super cheap rate of just over 5c per kWh from 2-4 a.m. each morning when customers can charge their electric vehicles on the cheap.
However, as mentioned above, you'll need to have a smart meter installed first before you can sign up to a smart tariff.
Is there a cost for getting a smart meter?
There'll be no upfront costs to households.
However, according to the CRU, replacing every premise in the country with a new smart meter will cost some €1.2bn.
Like other infrastructure upgrades, the cost of the meter upgrade will be recouped over time in charges paid by suppliers, and in turn customers, for the use of the electricity network.
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 2024 by which time every home, farm and business in Ireland should have a new smart electricity meter installed.
At the moment around 250,000 meters have already been replaced and approximately 500,000 more will be installed every year over the next four years.
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 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.
The much-anticipated rollout of smart electricity meters in Ireland will 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 to 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.
Suppliers will no longer have to estimate bills and might see the roll-out of smart meters as an opportunity to introduce innovative price plans and pricing structures.
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.
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.
- By simply adjusting your habits around the home, you could become more energy-efficient. Take a look at these 15 ways to use electricity and save money.
- Working from home can have a significant impact on your energy, broadband and mobile costs. We’ve compiled a list of 12 ways to save money while working from home.
- Have you considered retrofitting? Improving your home’s energy efficiency not only helps you to reduce your carbon footprint but also means you can save a huge amount on your energy bills. Here’s an overview of finance options and available grants if this is something you’re interested in.