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Types of energy meters – what different types of meter can I get?

There are lots of different types of electricity meters. Some, such as prepayment meters and smart meters, can help you more easily keep track of how much energy you're using. However, it's also worth being aware of their drawbacks.

What is a standard meter?

Standard meters are the most common type of electricity meter. They use mechanical displays to show your readings. You'll need to take a reading of 5 black numbers from left to right (ignoing any red numbers). Sometimes you can send a photo of the display to your electricity company to take a reading instead. 

Make sure you take regular meter readings for accurate bills.

What is a prepayment meter?

Prepayment meters let you pay as you go for your gas or electricity. You can top up your meter using a key or card, which you can add money to at local shops.

Prepayment meters have some benefits:

  • you can pay as you go for energy, meaning you can decide when to top up and by how much
  • billing mistakes are less common and you won't have to worry about inaccurate estimates of your energy use.

In addition, there's a price cap on most standard variable prepayment tariffs. This means there's a maximum limit on how much energy suppliers can charge you per unit of electricity and gas – but your bill will still vary based on how much energy you use.

However, there are significant downsides to prepayment meters, such as:

  • there are more limited tariff options for prepayment meter users
  • the nearest place you can top up may not be close to your home
  • if you don’t have money to add credit to your meter, you won’t have any gas or electricity.

If you want a prepayment meter, contact your supplier to find out how. Some suppliers have conditions – for example, that you have a current account or have been debt free for at least 3 months.

If you're a tenant, see what your agreement says about making changes to your home.

You shouldn't have to pay to have a prepayment meter installed. 

Contact Citizens Advice if your supplier is trying to charge you for installation

Historically, households with prepayment meters have paid more on average for their energy than similar households paying for their energy using direct debit.

However, from 1 July 2023, households with prepayment meters won't be charged more for their energy. 

From April 2024, Ofgem are reviewing ways to permanently remove the 'premium' on prepayment meter prices.

What is a smart meter?

Smart meters are a new type of energy meter being offered to every household in England, Wales and Scotland. You don’t have to pay to have a smart meter installed.

Smart meters record exactly how much gas or electricity you use and automatically send regular readings to your energy company. This means you won’t have to take meter readings anymore and should get accurate bills (although it’s still a good idea to check that your bills match the amount of energy you’ve used).

Smart meters come with a small, easy-to-use device (known as an 'in-home display unit'), which sits in your home and allows you to see how much energy you’re using in kilowatt hours (kWh) and exactly how much it’s costing you. Some suppliers offer more accessible options if you have difficulty accessing your in-home display. Speak to your supplier for more information.

If you’re interested in getting a smart meter, get in touch with your energy supplier to find out what would happen if you wanted to switch to a different deal.

Find out more about smart meters on the Smart Energy GB website

Other types of electricity meter

There are lots of other types of electricity meters aside from standard, prepayment and smart meters. We've explained some of the more common types below.

Dial meters

Dial meters function like standard meters, but they look like a bit like small analogue clocks. If you have a dial meter, you need to make note of the numbers that each dial is pointing towards to take your meter readings (but ignore any red numbers). If the needle is between 2 figures, write down the one that the dial's just passed. 

Digital meters

Digital meters also function a lot like standard meters, but their readings are displayed on digital screens, so you might need to press a button to display the figure. To take a reading, make a note of the first 5 figures, and ignore the last figure if it begins with 0.1.

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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