What makes smart meters 'smart'?

Smart meters are rolling out across the country to keep both members and suppliers up to date with energy consumption. They send automatic meter readings to suppliers, provide real time data on In-Home Displays (IHDs), and can be compatible with solar panels to make the most out of solar energy. You can find our guide to smart meters here.

We’re installing Second Generation (SMETS2) Smart meters for our members so we’re here to provide some insight into the mysterious world of smart meters.


First up, smart meters and their networks :cyclone:

Smart meters send automatic meter readings to your supplier. They run on a dedicated secure smart network that is provided by and managed by the Data Communications Company (DCC).

This network is made up of the Home Area Network (HAN) as well as the Wide Area Network (WAN).

WAN covers any distance necessary. Your smart electricity meter uses WAN to send data, such as meter readings, just like a mobile phone. If your meter is connected, you’ll see a green light flashing every five seconds. If there’s no WAN coverage in your area, we won’t be able to commission the smart meters yet as they won’t have the coverage needed to achieve this. This will be updated in time by the DCC.

Your electricity smart meter also creates a short-range wireless network called a HAN, which connects to devices within your home.

Meters become ‘smart’ when they are able to fully connect to both of these networks. The DCC then sends information about how much gas and electricity you’ve used directly to your energy supplier.

The range of the HAN is about 15m, but this can be obstructed by things like thick walls and doors. This can stop your smart meter from communicating with your In-Home-Display (IHD).

@Rob_at_smartenergyGB once told us that Britain has the widest variety of buildings that have been constructed over the last 1,000 years so you can imagine some of the challenges faced in the smart meter rollout! You can read more from his Q&A here.


Suppliers connect through ‘commissioning’ :zap:

Once your smart meters are installed, the engineers complete a process called ‘commissioning’. This is the process of connecting your meters to the networks above.

In order to successfully commission your meter, there needs to be Wide Area Network coverage available. Bulb then needs to join the Home Area Network and upload our security credentials onto the meter amongst a couple of other things.

The communications hub (or comms hub) sitting immediately on top of your electricity meter is responsible for receiving and sending all data. The comms hub uses the Home Area Network (HAN) to talk to the electricity, gas and IHD (In Home Display) devices. The HAN sends the readings from both your meters out to the DCC who relay them back to us, so we can bill you accurately for your energy.

Sometimes we may need to attempt to remotely commission a meter. This just means the engineer wasn’t able to complete the connection at the time, but we can sometimes run this from our end to get the meter working.

If there are any hiccups along the way, we work closely with the DCC to make sure we can rectify them as soon as possible.

Smart meters work on this smart network in a similar way to a phone network or radio waves. They’re not dangerous. If you are concerned about the health impacts, the UK government has written a comprehensive post about smart meters and radio waves here.

We’re still working on ways to connect to meters that were installed but not commissioned by another supplier, and should hopefully have more updates on this in the coming year.


Your In-Home Display (IHD) and its functions :calling: :tv:

We provide Chameleon IHDs for Second Generation (SMETS2) smart meters. These connect to the meter via the communications hub and securely share energy information with your supplier (us!). Your IHD should show your energy usage in real time by drawing data from the smart meters. You can check out the guide to setting up your In-Home Display here.

If your IHD isn’t showing the right usage, it sometimes just needs a little push to fully connect to your meters. If you think this has happened follow this link and fill in the details of the issue.

Once you’ve sent that in we try and fix your IHD overnight, so it should start working within 24 hours. Make sure you keep your IHD turned on and within 5m of your electricity meter overnight and restart it in the morning if nothing’s changed.

If that doesn’t work or the IHD is frozen, it may need a hard reset - in which case try these two methods:

Method 1

  • Hold the reset button for 15s. This gives the IHD a hard reset

Method 2

  • Unplug the IHD and let it run completely out of power
  • Restart the IHD using the button at the back, making sure it is still unplugged
  • The emergency power reserve will need to drain also, so let this happen
  • Try to restart the IHD again. If it turns on, it still has power that needs to drain so let it run down
  • Once the IHD cannot turn on any more, recharge it and turn it on
  • The IHD should now work

If neither of these work, please send us an email to help@bulb.co.uk with a photo of your IHD and we can take a further look.

Please also make sure you keep your IHD connected to Wi-Fi to receive software updates as they get released by the manufacturer.


The future of smart :mag:

Smart meters use the latest technology to achieve all these things. From a supplier perspective, smart meters can provide further transparency into usage and billing to ensure Bulb members are up to date and informed about their personal energy use.

From an industry perspective, smart meters can be a point of integration for new technologies. As the energy industry moves forward with new technology like electric vehicles (EVs), it needs up to date devices to make sure we can get the most out of these innovations. A study by Smart Energy GB found that more than eight million people are considering an EV in the next five years. Smart meters can integrate with EVs to help reduce energy costs by enabling car charging during off-peak periods.

Smart meters can provide information into consumption and trends, and allow ideas for improvements in energy efficiency and conservation to grow.

By making energy usage data more visible, smart meters help us understand where we can save. With smart meter data being sent regularly, members will better understand their usage and suppliers, like us, can try and engage our members with the possibilities of energy conservation - for both financial and environmental benefit!

As with anything techy there are some bumps to smooth out, but we think the smart meter rollout across the country will bring lots of positives to the industry.

We’d love to know whether our members with smart meters have experienced a better understanding of their energy consumption and what ideas they might have to improve the system further :brain:

4 Likes

How secure is the Chameleon IHD6-CAD-PPMID Smart Meter?
If I connect it to my WIFI does this allow hackers access to my home network?
I have read that a lot of these small devices we are advised to connect to our home systems don’t take security seriously and they are easy to access then giving access to other machines on the same network.

1 Like

Hi @Don_Smith, welcome to Community and thanks for asking such an insightful question to begin with!

The IHD is loaded with security credentials so it will only pass its information through to Bulb, so provided that your WiFi also is password-protected, there shouldn’t be any risk whatsoever to your home network.

Do let us know if you have any other questions about this!

Hi, I had our smart meters fitted about a 1 year ago. The IHD (In-Home Display) only shows electricity and also I have to submit gas meter reading manually. I’ve tried connect smart gas meter to HAN ( Home Area Network) but failed. There is a thick concrete wall between smart gas meter and HAN device situated on smart electricity meter. My suspicion is that I’ve probably fitted standard HAN device working on 2.4GHz and what I need is to Dual Band HAN working on 868MHz or something stronger. Can I book an engineer to replace my HAN device to a stronger one ?

Hey @Darius

I’ve merged this into this thread as it is part of the discussion around smart meters. Like you said, during your smart meter installation, the engineer couldn’t connect your meter to the smart network. This would also be why the IHD isn’t showing the use.

We can actually attempt to fix this remotely, so we wouldn’t send out an engineer but as you said- you’ve got some thick walls which can affect the HAN capacity.

I’ve raised this with our smart team to see if we can remotely attempt and I’ll let you know what the next steps are when I hear back :relaxed:

– H :bulb:

I switched to Bulb in last few days. They have sent me an email to say they will request me to provide an initial smart meter reading. My smart meter is located in in a locked cabinet outside my apartment. I do not have access to it and I’ve never seen it.
I switched to Bulb principally because I was informed they could read the meter remotely.
My current supplier is unable to do this and bills me on their estimates. So that’s my reason for switching to Bulb
Can anyone assure me that I’ve pulled the right handle?

Hey @raytoal

We always ask people for their opening meter readings, whether a meter is smart or not. This is because we send these to the old supplier and the old supplier send us their closing ones and we make sure they match. We also have to ask for them manually as you can submit them a bit before the actual switch date- which means we also can’t read the meter yet as we’re not the supplier.

I’ve had a look at your meter on the national database and this says its a second generation smart meter so it would be compatible for us to read, however you’ve mentioned your current supplier couldn’t read it remotely… Was it commissioned with them? If the meter wasn’t commissioned by them and they installed it, we wouldn’t be able to remotely commission it with us. I recommend checking that with them!

Any questions, let us know.

– H :bulb:

Thanks for your cautionary response. My current electricity supplier is ECOTRICITY.
I contacted them and was told that they did install my 2nd generation Smart Meter.
However they never commissioned it because the intercom signal strength was too feeble.
And that is why they continue to bill me on estimated readings.
However, my neighbour who referred me to BULB and who’s apartment is also in Twickenham Gateway told me that BULB had no problem with the intercom to his meter.
So I’m not sure where to go from here. It looks like I should cancel BULB if they’re going to hit the same problem as ECOTRICITY.

Hey @raytoal

Ahh unfortunately if its not commissioned with them we wouldn’t be able to commission it remotely with us :pensive:
Your neighbour might have had their smart meter installed by us or it was already commissioned so we could read it remotely.

If you’d like to stay with Ecotricity you can withdraw you switch to us through your Bulb Account, but otherwise the switch would come to us and it’d be manual readings for now

– H :bulb:

It seems like i only ever come into this chat to complain, but i cant for the life of me find a map or any confirmation if smart meters are live in my area yet.

A few years ago i was told they were and all the convenient meter reading boxes in my house were removed for smart meter ones, turns out they are terrible to get a reading from, only to find out my area wasn’t covered by smart meters. A few more years have now passed, and i would like to know

  • are they live in my area yet?
    -is there a link or url so i can track their progress?

Hey @stowgary :wave:

Do you mean WAN coverage in your area? :thinking:

If that’s the “signal” coverage issue that is often to referred to, for why the smart meters aren’t working in my home.

Just looking for a map of coverage, expected timeline or any info really.

Hi @stowgary, to quote a post from my colleague from earlier on in the year from @holly_at_bulb:

Unfortunately, we don’t have a coverage map that shows strength of coverage in particular areas, we are only informed whether or not the WAN signal is strong enough to go ahead with a smart installation. However, this may well be worth contacting either Telefonica or Arquiva about, to see whether they’re able to shed any more light on this.

All the best,
Lou :sparkles:

Are you saying you only install in areas with signal? and so i need to contact those suppliers to find out when my meter will start working? (bulb installed the meter)

Hi @stowgary

Yes, currently before we go ahead with a smart installation we receive information as to whether or not the WAN signal is strong enough. Sometimes, however, there may be an obstruction that we are not aware of that would mean the signal is lessened/blocked.

It could definitely be useful to get in contact with Telefonica or Arquiva to see if they can provide any more information on coverage in your area.

All the best
Eleanor :bulb:

I had both Gas and Electric smart meters installed in April 2019. The electric is working but Gas is still in “dumb mode” after 2.5 years. The last thing Bulb told me was that the meter is stuck at 6.24.1 error, I have no idea if there is any truth in the statement (a year ago) :slight_smile:

Do I have the record for longest time a smart meter remained non functional?
or has someone been waiting longer than my 2.5 years?

I know smart meter problems are common but I am trying to gauge how common it is to have a such long term smart meter problem?

And it’s not going to get sorted anytime soon if Bulb go Bankrupt by the end of the week (They’ve just announced this evening (Sunday) they’re seeking a £1.7 million bailout from any investors)

Hey @DrB :wave:

It sounds like your meters had an error when commissioning- this like we’ve mentioned above on this thread- relates to the connection of the meters to the DCC network.

The meter got stuck at a ‘6.24.1’ error which occurs when trying to upload Bulb’s security credentials onto the meter. Unfortunately if we’re unable to upload our credentials, we leave the meter in a dumb mode for security reasons.

This means if we try and remotely commission it, its likely to hit this issue again. This error in particular is one relating to third parties, this is not something we are able to fix at the moment. We’re working with the DCC to work to what the root cause is for these kinds of errors and roll out fixes as they become available. I’m sorry to hear its been a long wait and hasn’t been sorted sooner.

We can check with our smart team to see if we can attempt this again if you would like? However due to the error we can’t guarantee it will be possible.

Let us know.

– H :bulb:

I’ve had both gas and electricity meters for nearly a year now. The electricity meter has worked fine from day 1 and the IHD is really useful to see how much is being used at any moment. The gas meter however, has never worked. Not once. I can take readings manually but it doesn’t connect to Bulb. Which clearly defeats the purpose. Had some to and fro with customer services about 6 months ago. Something about “not commissioned” and being resolved “by the summer” but it’s still disconnected. So is that it now? Any prospect of my smart gas meter ever working? I know this issue is quite commonplace amongst customers so curious to know whether Bulb is going to grasp the nettle and fix it.

Hey @Soviet

I’ve merged your post here as its similar to some other queries we’ve had. I can’t find an account under the email connected to your Community account however based on the info from your post-

It sounds like it is a commissioning issue. As I mentioned to @DrB above, we can attempt to remotely commission some meters but if issues are encountered during the process it stops the smart meter becoming fully commissioned as these errors relate to DCC issues, rather than ours directly.

Can you send us an email to help@bulb.co.uk from the address linked to your account and we’d be able to help?

Let us know when you have and we can raise this with our smart team to see if remotely attempting it would be possible for you- we just need those account details first :slight_smile:

– H :bulb: