What is a Smart Meter?
Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

A smart meter is an electronic device used for reading energy consumption in near real-time. Smart electricity meters are currently being rolled out to every home and premises in Ireland.

What is the difference between a smart meter and a standard meter? 

Standard (older) electricity meters record how much electricity you use. However they can't be read remotely so require you to submit a meter reading to your supplier regularly so that you receive accurate bills. They also have no ability to tell you when exactly you're using your electricity or what appliances are costing you the most money to run. 

Smart meters, on the other hand, are considered the ‘next generation’ of electricity meter, according to the CRU. They can communicate directly with your energy supplier, and send them near real-time data about your energy usage. This will save you time as you'll no longer need to submit a meter reading yourself. It also means you'll be able to get way more valuable information and insights into your electricity usage.  

In regards to the data that is sent to your supplier, this happens once a day around midnight. However, if you want an even more accurate insight into your energy usage, you will have the option to send data on your consumption to your supplier every 30 minutes. 

How can I activate my smart meter?

When a smart meter is installed in your home, it will display a meter reading and work just like your old meter. 

However, if you want to avail of the benefits of a smart meter you must activate your smart meter. To activate your smart meter you must sign up to a smart meter tariff with your electricity supplier.

If you’re unsure whether to activate your smart meter or not, take a look at the many advantages having an active smart meter provides you with.

What are the advantages of smart meters?

1. No more estimated bills

You might be one of the many Irish energy customers who regularly receive estimated bills, which are based on the average consumption for a home the same size as yours.

ESB Networks usually attempts to send an engineer to read your electricity meter four times a year, but this often isn’t possible (due to nobody being home at the time of the call-out, for example), making an estimate necessary.

Smart meters remove the need for estimated bills as they have a two-way communication system (using 2G technology) and are able to read your electricity meter remotely, which means both you and your supplier have constant access to your usage levels.

This means you'll only be billed for what you've used going forward and will no longer have to submit a meter reading to your supplier.

2. Reduced energy consumption 

Smart meters will allow you to see exactly how much energy you’re using in near real-time, and which appliances are using the most electricity, 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.

However, the level of real-time data and insights on offer from some suppliers are still lacking at present. But this will hopefully improve in due course.

3. Lower carbon footprint 

Improved energy efficiency and reduced consumption are not only good for your pocket; it’s good for the environment too!

The less energy you use, the happier Mother Nature will be!

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. 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 which mean you don’t have to visit a shop. You’ll also be able to see your balance on your in-home display unit. This will allow you to track how much credit you have left, so you don’t run out of it. In the future, you should be able to set your meter to automatically top up so you won’t be left without power if your credit runs out at night or when the shops are closed.

6. More tariff options 

By signing up to a smart meter tariff, you will be able to avail of ‘time-of-use tariffs’, that charge customers different prices for electricity depending on the time of day. Suppliers introduced these ‘time-of-use tariffs’ to encourage you to move your usage to off-peak times when it is less expensive to produce electricity. This can also help lower carbon emissions as peak-time energy demand often has to be met by turning on fossil-fuel generators.  

However, it’s recommended you engage with your supplier before signing up to a smart tariff so that they can recommend the right one for you based on your consumption habits. If you choose the wrong tariff you could end up paying more for your electricity.

Also, once you have signed up to a smart meter tariff, you can not return to the standard tariff you were on before you activated your smart meter. You'll only be able to switch to another smart tariff. 

See here for more information on smart tariffs.

7. Better customer service 

The new smart meters will also allow ESB Networks to find and fix faults quicker. 

You'll also be able to choose your own billing date and whether to get monthly or bi-monthly bills. Every six months, some suppliers will also write to you to let you know if you could save money by moving to a different smart tariff. 

How much will I save?

Back in 2009, around 8,000 gas and electricity 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.

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, by signing up to a time-of-use tariff and switching some of your energy usage to different times of the day, you could save a bit more. But it will depend on when you use your electricity.

Some of the smart tariffs on offer right now won't save households much money. Indeed, households with a day/night meter in particular and which use a big amount of energy at night may find smart tariffs quite poor value for them at present.

It's hoped better value plans will become available over the coming months.  

You can learn more about making savings with a smart meter in our guide on electricity-saving myths debunked.

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.

When will I get mine?

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 meter installed.

At the moment over 1.6 million meters have been replaced and the remaining 500,000 or so will be installed over the coming months. However, only around 10% of meters have been activated.

Those with day/night meters will be the last to be upgraded.

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. 

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.

What can I do in the meantime?

If you don't yet have a smart meter, there are some things you can do in the meantime to improve your energy efficiency and make some great savings.

Firstly, you could get an electricity appliance monitor like the Owl monitor. This will cost you about €50 and, by showing you which items in your house are costing you the most, it will likely pay for itself in a matter of months.

You can also switch energy supplier right here on bonkers.ie. Our comparison service lets you review deals from all Ireland's energy suppliers.

It's quick and easy to switch and only takes minutes and will save you hundreds on your annual bills. 

And don’t forget to check out our energy blogs and guides to stay up-to-date with the latest news and top saving tips.

Get in touch

Are you looking forward to getting a smart meter installed? 

If you have any questions about smart meters or switching energy suppliers, let us know. You can contact us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.