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How Do Smart Meters & Solar Panels Work Together

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how do smart meters and solar panels work together?

Smart meters are electricity or gas meters that are designed to help people manage their energy usage. If you have a smart meter fitted, as you use energy in your home it will record information about your energy usage and display useful information for you on a screen. Most importantly, it will tell you how much energy you’re using and how much this costs you. As well as this, smart meters also send records to the energy suppliers so that they have a more accurate record of your energy consumption.

Smart meters are pretty much always always a good idea, and they can help people to manage their energy better. However, previously, there were some issues getting smart meters to work with solar panels. This can make some people hesitant to install a solar panel smart meter set up.

The most important things to know are:

  • Nowadays, smart meters and solar panels work together without any problems
  • You actually need either a smart meter or an export meter to receive payments under the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)

 

How Smart Meters & Solar Panels Work Together?

As we said, there were previously some problems with smart meters when they were installed alongside a solar panel system. The problem occurred with the first-generation smart meter (SMETS1 meters), which were installed between 2013 and 2018. How second generation smart meters work now is different, and as a result they don’t suffer the same issues.

What was wrong with SMETS1 Meters?

The problem with first-generation smart meters was related to the way they sent information to energy suppliers. They sent information using 3G sim cards, which were expected to be problem free. However, this proved not to be the case and they experienced problems pairing with solar panel systems and transmitting information to energy providers.

This meant that there were problems measuring the amount of solar energy usage in a household and how much excess energy was being exported to the grid.

Second-Generation Smart Meters

Second-generation smart meters (SMETS2 meters) work differently from first-generation meters and have been installed reliably since 2018. Rather than using 3G networks, these meters communicate over the Data Communication Company (DCC) network.

Switching Energy Suppliers

First-generation smart meters were also known to malfunction when consumers tried to switch energy suppliers. After switching, they would sometimes freeze and be unable to send information. Again, this problem typically does not occur with the second-generation smart meter.

What Will A Smart Meter Do?

What a smart meter does is record information about your energy usage. 

If you haven’t yet installed solar panels, a smart meter will tell you:

  • Exactly how much energy you’re using
  • When you’re using it
  • How much it costs you

 

If you install solar panels, a smart meter will also tell you how much renewable solar energy you’re using from your solar panels (instead of from the grid) and how much excess energy you’re exporting to the national grid from your solar panels. This happens when your household doesn’t use all the energy your solar PV system is producing – it gets exported to the grid and you can be paid for it.

You should be able to see all of this information on a display on the screen of your smart meter. It’s also sent directly to your energy supplier who can provide you with more accurate energy bills.

Do You Need A Smart Meter To Get The Smart Export Guarantee?

You need either a smart meter or an export meter to be able to benefit from Smart Export Guarantee payments.

The Smart Export Guarantee is the government scheme under which ordinary people can be paid for producing electricity. It was introduced as a replacement to the Feed-in Tariff, which was the scheme that operated before. If you’ve got solar panels, then you’ll be able to sell to the grid any excess solar energy you produce but don’t use yourself.

Under the scheme, all energy companies over a certain size are obliged to offer at least one tariff for customer to sell them their self-produced energy. As a electricity generator, you can choose a tariff and then earn money for exporting electricity to the grid.

You can see a list of SEG licensees here.

How Much Can You Earn Under SEG?

In short, not that much. In fact, it’ll cost you much more to buy electricity from the grid than you’ll get for exporting it to the grid. As a result, it usually makes sense to use as much of your own solar panel electricity as you can. This will cut down the amount you import from the grid, which will save you money.

For reference, typical energy prices in the UK in July 2024 were £0.22 per kWh. At the same time, typical prices on offer for exporting electricity to the grid varied from £0.02 to £0.12 per kWh depending on the energy supplier.

It’s not all bad news, though. It still helps if you get paid for producing electricity. Ultimately, the money you’re paid will contribute to the total savings you make from having solar panels.

A Smart Meter Will Help You To Maximise Your Solar Usage

With solar panels, you need to maximise your daytime energy usage so that you use as much of your free solar electricity as possible. If your household can shift to using more electricity during the daytime than in the evening, you’ll be using solar energy rather than grid energy.

Smart meters are useful devices for solar panel owners because they can help with this. With a smart meter, you’ll be able to see how much electricity you’re using from your solar panels and how much you’re importing from the grid. Having direct access to real-time information is very helpful and is a real bonus for solar panel owners.

With this information, things become a lot clearer. You’ll be able to adjust your energy usage according to how much solar energy is available throughout the day. Ultimately, by creating the most energy-efficient usage system for your household, you’ll cut down on your grid electricity usage as much as you can.

How Do You Get a Smart Meter Installed?

If you’d like to get a smart meter fitted in your house, you can request one on the Smart Energy GB not-for-profit campaign here.

In 2020, the UK government announced their intention to have smart meters installed in every home in the country. As part of their plan, they made energy companies responsible for contacting customers to arrange smart meter fitting. Customers can also contact their energy company to request a smart meter, as well, and they will come and fit it. 

Your supplier is responsible for fitting:

  • A smart meter for both electricity and gas with an in-home display that you can use to monitor your energy usage. This must display your energy usage in pounds and pence
  • A communications hub. This is what sends and receives information over the data communications company network between your home and your energy supplier. This allows your supplier to monitor your energy usage and bill you accurately

 

Do You Have To Have A Smart Meter Fitted? 

Strictly speaking, you don’t have to have a smart meter fitted if you don’t want one. However, there isn’t really a reason not to, and it’s now quite difficult to avoid getting one.

As we said earlier, the second generation of smart meters are usually very reliable and they’re very useful when it comes to managing your energy usage. They’re particularly useful if you’ve got solar panels because they help you maximise your use of free, daytime solar panel electricity. On top of this, without a smart meter, you may lose access to good energy tariffs in the future.

Normally, your energy supplier will replace your existing meter with a smart meter if:

  • They contact you to arrange fit one
  • You contact them to request one
  • Your meter needs to be replaced
  • They are installing a meter for the first time, such as in a new property

 

Can You Switch Energy Suppliers If You Have a Smart Meter?

You can, yes. While there was sometimes a problem switching energy suppliers with the first generation of smart meters, this is a thing of the past. 

With second-generation smart meters, if you want to switch energy suppliers, you just do this in the same way that people with traditional meters do. It may, in fact, be easier for people with smart meters to switch suppliers, and they may be able to switch without there being an interruption to their energy readings.

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Oliver Creevy
Ollie Creevy has over three years of expertise in the home improvements and solar panels sectors by writing content across multiple websites. He is highly knowledgeable about the latest trends, technologies and practices in this industry, and is passionate about sharing his insights with others. Ollie's writing has been featured in numerous publications, including MSN, Bustle, and Realtor.com.

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