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Types of electricity meter

Find out more about the electricity meter you have, and the types available for you and your home.

Key points

  • Standard meters are the most common type of electricity meter in the UK, and show how much energy you’ve used in kilowatt hours (kWh)
  • Variable rate meters, such as Economy 7 and Economy 10, allow you to access cheaper rates by using electricity at off-peak times
  • Smart meters make it easier to keep track of how much electricity you’ve used, and take away the hassle of submitting readings to your energy supplier

The amount of electricity you use in your home is measured by a meter. There are several different types of meter, relating to the various tariffs offered by energy suppliers.

But which is best for you, and can you save money by switching to a different type of electricity meter?

Standard meters

Most homes in the UK are fitted with standard electricity meters. These show your energy usage in kilowatt hours (kWh) using a simple mechanical display. It's easy to take a reading from a standard meter - just make a note of the black numbers, reading from left to right.Gas and electricity

There might also be some red numbers, but you don't need to pay attention to these - they represent figures after the decimal point, and your supplier doesn't need to know about them.

Dial meters

Dial electricity meters work similarly to standard meters, but are presented as a series of clock-like dials instead of numbers.

They're not as perplexing as they might seem - you simply need to take note of the numbers that each dial is pointing towards (again, ignoring the red numbers if they're present). If the needles on some of the dials are pointing to a position between two figures, record the number that the needle has just passed.

Digital meters

These electronic meters display their readings on LCD screens. You might need to press a button in order to access the the figure. Take note of the first five figures, and ignore the final figure if it begins with 0.1.

Economy 7 and Economy 10 meters

Some electricity suppliers provide tariffs designed for people who use most of their energy at off-peak times, such as at night. These are known as Economy 7 and Economy 10 tariffs. Collectively, they're sometimes referred to as variable rate meters.

Economy 7 tariffs offer cheaper electricity during seven designated night-time hours. Economy 10 tariffs throw three discounted daytime hours into the bargain, allowing customers to benefit from a total of 10 cheaper hours as long as they stick to the allocated times.

If you're on an Economy 7 or Economy 10 electricity tariff, your meter will display two different figures - one for energy consumed during 'normal' times, and one for energy consumed during off-peak times. Since each figure relates to a different unit rate, your energy supplier needs to know both numbers in order to provide you with accurate bills.

Prepayment meters

Prepayment electricity meters require customers to pay for what they use in advance, topping up with a card or key in order to access more energy. In some instances, you may be able to top up your account with an app.

Most prepayment meters are digital, and by default will show the amount of remaining credit left on your account so that you know when it's time to top up. If you need to provide a reading to your supplier, pressing a button on the meter will change the display so that it shows you the figure you need.

However, this type of meter can actually be more expensive than having a standard meter. If you run out of credit, your electricity will automatically just shut off, which can be really inconvenient if it's late at night and you top your meter up at a local store. Discuss the options with your energy provider and see if you're able to move away from a prepayment meter.

Smart meters

As the name suggests, smart meters are intelligent devices that provide detailed information on how and when you use your energy.

They also communicate with your energy supplier, providing them with accurate updates on how much energy you've used. This means there's no need to take manual meter readings - the smart meter does it all for you, and you'll only be billed for the energy you actually use.

Smart meters eliminate the need for estimated billing, and put you in control of your spending by showing how much energy you've used in pounds and pence. They also make switching suppliers easier, so you can take advantage of the lowest energy prices available. Standard, variable rate and prepayment tariffs are all available with a smart meter, meaning anyone can benefit from them.

Which electricity meter is right for you?

With so many types of electricity meter available, it can be tricky to know which one will be right for you. A number of factors are likely to influence your decision, including how much energy you use on a daily basis, whether your home uses a storage heater, and whether you're willing to restrict your electricity usage to off-peak times.

To help make your decision easier, here are a few common living situations that might lend themselves to different types of electricity meter.

If you live with lots of people and want maximum flexibility…

In large households (such as big families or shared houses where everyone has different habits), it's usually not practical to place restrictions on how and when people use electricity. For this reason, a standard meter is likely to be best.

If you're keen to save money (and the environment) by being economical with electricity…

Using the majority of your electricity during off-peak hours means you're likely to benefit from the savings that a variable rate meter (such as Economy 7) can provide. Ideally your home should also have a storage heater installed - this will allow you to pre-heat your water overnight when energy is cheapest.

If you have a poor payment history…

You may only have the choice of using a prepayment meter, this is because you have to pay in advance, so the energy supplier is guaranteed to get their money but it can be expensive for the consumer.

This doesn't mean that you can't shop around and change your tariff or even switch providers to make sure you're getting the cheapest deal available to you.

Remember: standard, variable rate and prepayment tariffs are all available with a smart meter, which can help you to keep track of your energy spend.

By Matt Ayres