Solar PV

Smart meters and solar panels: Everything you need to know

Smart meters are great at giving you control over your energy usage. Solar panels are great at bringing your energy bills down and helping us all move towards a greener future. They might be useful enough separately, but what about together? Can you use solar without a smart meter? Will solar lower your bills if...

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Last updates on 26th of June 2023

Smart meters are great at giving you control over your energy usage. Solar panels are great at bringing your energy bills down and helping us all move towards a greener future.

They might be useful enough separately, but what about together? Can you use solar without a smart meter? Will solar lower your bills if you have a smart meter – or could your panels even interfere with a smart meter and make it give the wrong reading?

If you’re planning on having solar panels installed, although they will work without one, it may be a wise move to install a smart meter too. Smart meters and solar panels can work together to help you reduce your energy bills, and keep track of the energy you’re generating and using.

In this blog post, we’ll explain everything you need to know about using a smart meter with solar panels, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

How do Smart Meters work?

Smart meters automatically measure how much gas and electricity you use, which is true whether you use solar power or not. They do this by measuring the current flow and voltage at regular intervals, and using those measurements to calculate your average and overall usage. This data is then displayed for you to see.

Your smart meter can then pass on this data to your energy supplier using a purpose-built network called the Data Communications Company (DCC). If you still have a first-generation smart meter, then these transmit the data through 3G instead (we’ll go into detail on how you can tell the difference later in the article).

Whichever you have, you won’t need to manually take and send meter readings if you have a smart meter installed. Your supplier can then bill you as normal with the readings they receive. This also means they bill you for actual usage rather than an estimate.

If you have solar panels installed, and you are producing solar energy that is fed back into the National Grid, your smart meter won’t go backwards as an old analogue meter would have. What you might see, though, is a message that says ‘rEd’ or ‘Reverse energy detected’. This happens when your panels produce more electricity than you can use yourself.

Smart Meters, Solar Panels and Energy Export

You may already be familiar with the key advantages of having a smart meter. For example:

  • They provide accurate and up-to-date readings on how much energy you’re using
  • They help you manage and understand your energy bills
  • They help you look after the environment by keeping usage low
  • Data is sent straight from the smart meter to your energy company, so you don’t need to submit any readings

As for disadvantages, there really aren’t many. However, some people report feeling more aware of their energy consumption because they can see it in real-time.

A benefit you may not have thought of, though, is how smart meters can help you earn money on the excess energy your solar panels produce.

The SEG, or Smart Export Guarantee, is a government-backed renewable energy initiative introduced in January 2020. It requires medium and large energy suppliers with more than 150,000 customers to pay residents for the energy they export to the grid from their solar PV system.

So, How Does the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) Work?

Put simply, the SEG means that instead of you paying for energy, energy companies pay you for the excess energy you produce.

Each SEG-licensed energy company sets its own rates, with the average being somewhere between 2 and 5p per kWh. How much you make per year depends on the agreed rate and on how much energy you can supply back to the grid.

To export unused energy back into the grid, you previously had to have a separate ‘export meter’. This would specifically keep track of your exported energy so that you could be fairly compensated for it. But smart meters can do this for you, which means that they’re ideal for anyone who’s on a SEG tariff.

Plus, they’re just as good at calculating energy exports as they are at figuring out your bills, which means you’ll be paid for every kWh you export accurately and fairly.

Man in front of house with solar panels

Are all Smart Meters the same?

Where things get complicated is that there’s more than one kind of smart meter.

SMETS stands for Smart Metering Equipment Technical Specifications. While this might sound rather technical, don’t worry too much about memorising the acronym: a SMETS meter is just a smart meter.

As you can probably guess, SMETS-1 was the first generation of smart meters, while SMETS-2 was the second generation.

The main difference between SMETS-1 and SMETS-2 is that SMETS-1 meters use 3G to transmit data whereas SMETS-2 use the DCC network. Aside from that, second-generation meters also tend to have simpler interfaces and slight cosmetic differences.

Another difference around the SEG, is that while all SMETS-2 meters are universally usable by all energy suppliers who offer SEG, some SMETS-1 meters are not. So, if you’re looking into the SEG then you’d be better off with a SMETS-2 meter.

How will I know what type of smart meter I have?

The initial rollout of the second-generation SMETS-2 meters began in 2018. So, if yours was installed before then, it’s likely that you have a first-generation SMETS-1 meter.

But to know for sure which kind of meter you have, all you need to do is to check its serial number: if it starts with 19P it’s first-generation, and if it starts with 19M it’s a second generation.

This serial number should be somewhere on the front of the meter, although its exact location does vary based on manufacture and design. Alternatively, you can contact your energy supplier to get this information.

If it turns out that you have a SMETS-1 meter, it may be worth upgrading to a SMETS-2 to avoid any potential compatibility issues, this can be achieved by contacting your energy supplier.

Contact Solar Together today

Even if you have the right kind of smart meter, and even if you love the idea of solar, you may be put off the idea of having panels installed. That’s because it can take a long time to recoup the initial cost of solar panels, which is several thousand of pounds for the average system.

That's why we created Solar Together.

Solar Together is a group-buying scheme that can help you significantly reduce the cost of having solar panels installed. We work in conjunction with local councils, grouping residents together from across the country, giving you exclusive access to heavily discounted prices.

We vet suppliers for the quality of their service so that you don't have to. Beyond that, we even offer optional add-ons like battery storage and EV charge point installation and insurance-backed guarantees for customer protection.

If you’d like to learn more about how solar power works (and how group buying can help you save on those initial costs), take a look at our Blog or the rest of our site. If you’re ready to start your renewable electricity journey, you can register using the button below.

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