energy news

How to read your electricity and gas meter

27th December, 2009

Reading your gas and electricity meter

Your supplier may use estimates to calculate your monthly payments unless you prove how much you use each month. Therefore learning how to read a gas meter and how to read your electricity meter is crucial - as is ensuring that you are using the best type of meter for your needs. However, what are the different types of gas and electricity meters, how do they work and how do you read them? This guide to gas and electricity meters will explain.  Standard gas meters and standard electricity meters are the most common types of meters in homes across the UK.  To be technical, the most common form of standard meters are electromechanical induction meters. These count the number of revolutions on an aluminium disc which rotates at a speed that is proportional to the power used. Therefore, the number of revolutions indicates the energy used. There are three different types of electromechanical induction meters which display the readings in different ways - they are standard, digital and dial meters.

•Standard gas meter and standard electricity meter

Both standard gas meters and standard electricity meters use a mechanical display with numbers. When reading your electricity meter or reading your gas meter you must work from left to right recording any black numbers and ignoring any red numbers if present.

•How to read a digital gas meter or a digital electricity meter

Digital meters are arguably the most straightforward. You simply read the first five figures on the digital display - but be sure to ignore a final figure if it begins with 0.1. You may need to press a button to get the reading to display.

When reading  a dial gas meter or a dial electricity meter

Dial meters are a little more complicated. You should read the numbers displayed on each dial from left to right but ignore a final red dial if it is present. If the needle on the dial is positioned between two figures then it is the figure it has just past that should be noted down. You should also adjust the reading to account for any variations - for example if the dial is directly over a figure, for example four, you should note that down and underline it. Then if one of the numbers is followed by a nine, reduce the underlined figure by one - so four, becomes three.

If you choose to take your own meter readings you can contact your power company by telephone, the internet or post. Usually they will send out a representative at least once a year to verify your readings and to perform a safety check.

If you're looking to save money on your electricity bills you may wish to consider the Economy 7 meter/tariff. However, just what is Economy 7 and how does it work? This section of the gas and electricity meters guide will explain.

What are Economy 7 meters and how do you read them?

Economy 7 (also referred to as variable rate meters) customers generally use more energy at night than during the day to save money on their energy bills. This is because from the period that lasts from midnight to 7am (times can vary dependent on suppliers and regions), electricity costs less than the standard daytime rate - these are effectively the ‘off-peak' hours. So, just as you can make cheaper phone calls during off-peak hours, you can do the same by using your electricity at off-peak times too.

Roughly, the charge for using electrical appliances during these hours is around a third of the regular cost - exact costs vary but you could be charged 8p per unit for a standard rate and 4.55p per unit with Economy 7. However, you will need to use at least 20% of your energy consumption at night to make a saving. To make these tariffs work for you, you will usually need to install timing devices on key electrical appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines and so on. You'll also need to switch on your hot water boilers and storage heaters overnight.

One of the criticisms of Economy 7 is that even though you may heat your water and storage heaters continually overnight, there still may not be sufficient heat generated to last throughout the day. You will need to take baths and showers in the morning and your home could be cold in the evenings. Additionally, some Economy 7 tariffs charge double for daytime use meaning that savings can quickly be cancelled out. However, if you decide that Economy 7 is right for you then you'll need to know how to read your meter accurately. Moving to Economy 7 will mean a change of meter (sometimes at a cost). Economy 7 meters feature both night and daytime readings - you will need to record both. There are two types of Economy 7 meters - one which features two sets of numbers (daytime on top, night-time on the bottom) and the other which has one set of numbers that displays the ‘day rate' - you will need to press a red button to display the ‘night rate'. There will also be a timing system that is used to switch over the recordings from night to daytime. If you are still interested in Economy 7, contact your current supplier about making the move.

Paying for your gas and electricity by using standard meters can lead to a nasty shock - when the estimated bill arrives you may find that you've used much more energy than you expected and could therefore be paying out more than you can afford. However, this issue need never arise if you take advantage of prepayment meters.

What are prepayment meters and can they help you save?

The concept behind prepayment meters is simple - instead of paying after you have used your gas and electricity, you pay before you use it. According to research conducted in 2007, there are 5.8 million prepayment meters in Great Britain with 14% of electricity customers using prepayment meters and 10.4% of gas customers also using the prepayment system.

Prepayment meters are usually installed by the gas and electricity supplier, if it feels that the customer cannot keep up payments on their energy bill. However, they can also be requested by the customer themselves - and are often seen as a good method of budgeting. Generally speaking they are used by lower income households, such as people on welfare benefits, lone parents or those with no bank account. There are several different types of both gas prepayment meters and electricity prepayment meters available. Standard prepayment meters can come with a single or two-rate reading, similar to that of Economy

 You can top it up based on how much you wish to use.

Also available is the Pay Point network. With this system you receive rechargeable tokens that can be loaded with whatever amount of money you choose. These tokens will usually take the form of Quantum cards for gas meters and plastic keys for electricity meters.

There are disadvantages with prepayment meters, however, such as access to charging facilities. In addition, many suppliers add on additional charges that they claim are necessary to finance and maintain the meters themselves. According to Consumer Focus estimates, prepayment meters can cost on average an additional £195/year for gas and electricity.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions to the rule and some suppliers will not invoke additional charges for prepayment meters. That is why it is crucial to shop around for the best rates. Such additional charges are known as 'back charges'. These charges are incurred, through no fault of the customer, when a provider changes its unit rates but fails to recalibrate prepayment meters accordingly, As a result, customers may be paying less than is necessary and be oblivious to a build up of energy debt on their account. Once the provider finally gets round to updating the meter, an additional charge will be added to the meter to clear any outstanding debt. This type of practice has been abolished by British Gas, Scottish & Southern and EDF but is still in place for E.ON, Npower and Scottish Power.

Despite this issue, customer satisfaction with prepayment meters is high, although around half of prepayment customers believe they are using the cheapest payment method and this is not necessarily true.

Traditional gas meters and electricity meters have been taken to a new level thanks to the invention of smart meters. These advanced devices offer more detail than conventional meters and could help us save cash by altering the way we use our gas and electricity. So are smart meters as clever as they sound, or is this all hype?

What are smart meters?

The purpose of smart meters is straightforward - to match consumption with generation. Traditional electricity meters (smart meters are available as gas meters too) only tell you how much energy you have used. However, by contrast, smart meters give you information on how and when the energy was used.

Depending on the customer, and how you adjust your energy use as a consequence of receiving this information, smart meters could help you save significant amounts on your energy bills - estimates are between 3% and 15%.

It's not just about cutting bills either. Smart meters also help the environment because the more we are encouraged to be energy efficient, the lower our carbon emissions are likely to be. As a result, their implementation has been strongly backed by consumer groups such as Consumer Focus and the Energy Retail Association (ERA).

Though it is expected that smart meters will soon become the standard in all homes, they can already be bought from specialist providers. They work using a wireless transmitter that is clipped between the fuse-box and the electricity meter. This then transfers information to a wireless display which you should place somewhere prominent in your home - this will tell you how much energy you are burning every second.

There are many additional functions on smart meters including the ability to read remotely, thus eliminating manual and estimated readings; meaningful displays which show you how much money you are using; and in the most sophisticated meters, internet readings which show you exactly where energy is being wasted. All of this information should encourage you to turn off unused lights, or switch off devices that are left on stand-by. The main barrier for smart meters is standardisation - but manufacturers are drawing closer to a conclusion and it is expected that smart meters will soon be the standard across the UK.

Hopefully by reading this gas and electricity meters guide you now have a greater understanding of how each meter works and which is right for you.

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