The ultimate guide to electricity meters

Why it pays to know how to decipher your electricity meter

Knowing how to read your electricity meter means you can stay updated with how much electricity you use, how much you pay, and if you are getting a fair deal on your electricity usage. Even if you know how to take a basic meter reading, do you know what the numbers you note down actually mean? Our guide has everything you need to know to better understand your electricity meter and precisely what your electricity provider is charging you for. 

How do electricity meters work? 

Electricity meters have been around ever since electricity in houses became widely used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were modelled after gas meters and are used to measure and track how much electricity you use. Based on the reading of your meter, your energy supplier will then bill you accurately for your usage. Without readings, your supplier will use estimates based on property size and occupancy, which can lead to you being overcharged. 

Electricity meters function by measuring the instantaneous voltage and current to show how much energy has been used. Essentially, electric meters count how many kilowatts your house or flat uses and formulates your bill using the provider's cost per kilowatt-hours. For this reason, it is important to know how much electricity you are using to determine if your energy costs are fair or cheaper than they would be with another energy provider.

What kind of electricity meters are there?

Standard electric meter

Standard electric meters are the most common type of electricity meter for houses in the UK. Standard electric meters have a revolving dial that resembles the odometer of a car. You take a reading the same way you check your speed while driving. The more electricity you use, the more the dial will turn and the higher the number displayed will be. To take a reading simply read the number from left to right. If your reading has a red number displayed, ignore that number and any number that comes after the red number, or to the right of it. 

The number displayed is in kilowatt-hours (kWh), or the number of units of energy you use in one hour. Standard electric meters charge the same rate for electricity throughout the day, making your rate easy to read and understand.

Economy 7 meter

Another type of meter is an Economy 7 meter, which pairs with an Economy 7 tariff. Economy 7 meters work like standard meters and display a set of numbers that you read left to right, up to the red number (if one is displayed). However, with Economy 7 meters there will be two sets of numbers – one for peak hours during the daytime and the other for off-peak hours, recorded in the night. This also means there are two different rates – one for peak hour usage and a discounted rate for off-peak usage. This poses an advantage and the possibility of cheaper rates, especially if you use most of your electricity between 10pm and 8.30am.

Economy 10 meters work the same way as Economy 7 meters. However, Economy 10 meters offer discounted rates during select afternoon, evening and night hours. Economy 10 meters provide information about the energy you use during the off-peak and peak hours. In order to maximise an Economy 10 meter, you should use appliances such as dishwashers and laundry machines during the off-peak hours. You may find that not many providers offer tariffs for these meters, making your options limited.

Prepayment electricity meter

Prepayment electricity meters work exactly how the name suggests. You can only use electricity that you have prepaid for; however, if you run out of credit your provider may ‘back charge’ you without you knowing, forcing you into energy debt. Due to this, it is important to pay close attention to your electricity usage when using prepaid meters. 

Prepaid meters come in two types – standard prepayment meters which read in the same way as standard electricity meters and economy 7 meters, and prepayment meters which connect to a pay point that accepts tokens or keys. You can purchase these tokens or keys at most corner shops, supermarkets, and many more participating stores. 

Prepaid meters can be a good option for those who want to be conscientious about their energy consumption, as they force you to limit the amount of electricity that you use.

Smart electricity meter 

Smart electricity meters are the most modern electricity meter on the market right now. Compared to other types of electricity meters, smart meters offer more information about your energy consumption. They display real-time energy usage, as well as historical usage data that gives information about your energy consumption behaviour. Using this data, smart meters help the consumer optimise their energy use and lessen their energy bills. Furthermore, smart meters send usage data directly to your provider, so there is no need to send meter readings manually. 

Smart electricity meters use a digital display to record information, although most providers that offer smart meters have a phone app where you can check your energy consumption in real-time no matter where you are. 

It’s worth noting that smart meters can revert to standard meters (with digital displays) if you switch to a different supplier. The newer generation of smart meters may change this, but as yet, they are not widely available.

Take advantage of your meter reading

Now that you know how to read your electricity meter be sure to check that you are paying the proper amount each month. Have a look at your last bill and compare it to your meter reading to see if your charges match your reading. 

If you feel you are being overcharged for electricity, it might be time to find a new provider or a different tariff that better fits your lifestyle. You can use one of the many energy comparison sites to find and compare the lowest tariffs currently offered. 

What electricity meter is right for you? 

While most homes are likely to have a standard meter installed, it’s easy and free to have your supplier change your meter to one of the alternatives if you wish. The first step is to think about your energy usage. If you are a night owl who does household chores such as running the dishwasher and washing machine during the night, an Economy 7 meter may be the right choice for you. 

If you are someone who wants as much information as you can get about your usage, then you may want to consider a smart meter. Furthermore, you will always have access to your energy information with the smart meter, even if you’re not at home. You will need to check with your supplier to see if these meters are available in your area, and your home also needs to be suitable as readings are transmitted remotely.

If your home features particularly thick walls that are likely to block the meter’s signal, you may not be able to have one installed. One feature that customers may find challenging about smart meters is that energy providers will have more of your personal data than they would if you were using a standard meter or economy meter. The government is encouraging suppliers to have all their customers on smart meters by 2020, but if this is a key concern for you, you can refuse the installation. 

You can also look at different plans to see if you stand to save more with a different type of meter, such as an Economy 7 meter. Call your supplier if you need a new meter installed - they will schedule a time to come to your home with all the necessary equipment and install it.

Bjorn GriffithDec 9th 2019