As smart meters continue to be installed in homes and businesses around the country, electricity users have been advised to carefully consider their options before accepting a tariff.

Large energy users and residential customers on 'smart tariffs' will see higher electricity costs during the peak hours from 5pm to 7pm but lower prices at off peak times.

Marc Byrne and his wife Sarah Hennessy signed up to a smart-meter tariff after a new smart-meter was installed in their home.

"We're on a tariff where we get free electricity all day on Saturday so we tend to let the washing accumulate and then the machine is going 'ninety' all day," he says.

"That's great because it enables us to save a bunch of money that way."

"It's actually been great for us. We have two very young kids in the house so as you can imagine there is a lot of washing to be done every week," he said.

The smart-meter also provides the family with detailed information on how they are consuming electricity.

"You can look at your usage based on different appliances from month to month and compare yourself to other homes to see how you are doing versus an average home or a very efficient home," Mr Byrne said.

Marc and Sarah are one of 38,000 households to sign up for smart tariffs, even though Electric Ireland has installed 960,000 smart meters in homes and businesses around the country.

The company intends all customers to have smart meters by the end of their ongoing installation programme - 2.4 million smart-meters in total.

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So far only 4% of those with smart-meters have taken the next step and signed up for smart tariffs.

Darragh Cassidy, Head of Communications with switcher site, said: "Ultimately smart meters are a really good idea.

"They have lots of benefits and they have been rolled out successfully in lots of European countries."

"The big issue at the moment is that the smart tariffs for people with smart-meters are not always great value and some people, if they are not careful, when they move from a normal tariff to a smart tariff could actually end up spending more on electricity then they otherwise would have."

Consumers who have existing day and night rate meters could be in this category, he says.

"People who...use a lot of electricity at night could find some of the smart tariffs particularly poor value so you just need to do your research, understand and know when you use your electricity and make sure you sign up for the right plan."

Mr Cassidy also points out that once you switch to a smart tariff you are precluded from ever switching back to the older tariff system.

This week the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) announced that electricity companies will have to pay an extra 10% in network costs during the peak 5pm to 7pm usage period and will pay 10% less in off-peak hours.

As a result of this decision it is hoped energy companies will in turn offer consumers tariff deals that nudge them away from peak time consumption.

The CRU sees huge advantages in smart tariffs for consumers.

Karen Trant, Director of Customer Policy and Protection in the CRU, says: "Smart tariffs....give customers the ability to see their usage, change their behaviour if they want to make savings.

"This is a good news story for customers. The data is key."

Ms Trant says that in November there will be "a data hub whereby they will be able to go in, see their usage over a period of time... and understand perhaps where their peak usage is or if they can save money on some of the smart tariffs that are out there.

"I know some suppliers are offering a free Saturday, some are offering a night boost where if you have an EV vehicle you might decide it can come on (to charge) at a particular period of time at night so there is lots of choice and that's what we want for customers."

Back in the Byne/Hennessy household, Mr Byrne says their monthly electricity bill works out around €100 and he is very happy with that.

However, he is also alert to getting the best smart tariff deals available; by regularly switching suppliers.

"After 12 months with a supplier, those big discounts they offer new customers for moving across expire," he said.

"So when that period is reached, we always look to swap across and avail of another year of discounts."