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Roundtable: Smart Energy GB and FSB host smart meter rollout discussion

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Alongside the main conference and seminars, senior representatives from the energy sector attended a roundtable, run in conjunction with Smart Energy GB, to discuss the national smart meter rollout and how this can help reduce energy costs

By 2020, 53 million smart meters are expected to be installed in homes and small businesses across Britain, making the rollout one of the most significant infrastructure projects of the current parliament.

In conjunction with Smart Energy GB, the national campaign for the smart meter rollout, First Voice hosted a roundtable event, bringing together figures from the small business world and the energy sector to discuss the key issues around smart metering and the benefits of improving energy efficiency. The event was chaired by FV’s Oliver Luft. These are the edited highlights of that conversation:

Oliver Luft: How aware is small business about energy efficiency, and what are the factors that would encourage owners to install smart meters and make changes?

Abdul Majid [President, Scottish Grocers Federation]: We’re working to encourage retailers to improve electricity consumption. One of the things that came out of our work is that refrigeration units given out free by suppliers are so inefficient, in terms of the energy they use, that it’s cheaper [for store owners] to buy their own. There are lots of costs we have no control over; energy is one area that we can manage and still try to make savings.

OL: What are you telling your members?

AM: That through action we can make savings. I was one of the stores to get an energy efficiency refit and we’re now saving £400 per month. We’re asking other stores that have done the same for feedback; some are saving up to £20,000. The savings can be huge, and it’s all down to changing equipment. At the time, people tended to go for the cheapest rather than the most energy-efficient, and the realisation is there that huge savings can be made.

OL: What’s the advice coming from the suppliers about metering?

Chris Vinson [Public Affairs Manager, British Gas]: All suppliers are obliged to roll out meters to customers. We’re the largest supplier and have the most to roll out. 

That’s not just households, but businesses as well. There are huge benefits from the rollout: the provision of extra energy information and the ability for businesses to see their energy use and make decisions about cutting use. We did some research recently and found that nearly half of business electricity use was outside normal business hours – that’s striking when you think of the things running in the background. The key challenge is to engage businesses to take control and see smart meters as a gateway to innovation and better ways to make the energy market work properly.

OL: With a smart meter fitted, what are the key things small business owners will be able to do in terms of infrastructure and behaviour change to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs? 

Sacha Deshmukh [Chief Executive, Smart Energy GB]: There’s a short-term and a long-term to this. A lot of the short-term measures can be highly sectoral. With data showing how much energy you use in pounds and pence, in real time, you can start to see some of those patterns. Some of the immediate benefits lie in out-of-hours usage or with particular pieces of equipment. After that, I think we’ll start to see a transformation in levels of equipment automation, so the next stage is going to be more pan-sectoral, but it will be enabled by automation.

Allen Creedy [Chairman, FSB Energy policy]: There are investments you can make as a business, but if you’re a tenant it’s a different level of investment than if you own the property. There are critical issues in the nature of advice given by energy retailers as to whether the business property is owned or leased, short-term or long-term, and that’s the important issue because the willingness to invest will be different.

View a vox pop with Allen Creedy

OL: Where does energy efficiency fit into a small business’s cost-saving priorities?

Jim McVee [Head of Business Banking Direct UK, HSBC]: It depends. My experience of small business owners is that they will look at their largest costs and see if they can reduce them. £200 is a great sum of money to save, but if the business owner feels it takes one working hour per month that could otherwise generate £500, then the cost isn’t offset.

For a customer, it needs to be an extrinsic or intrinsic benefit to do anything. The extrinsic is where you can save money; the intrinsic is where you can save carbon emissions. But if it’s an extrinsic benefit, it has to be far enough up the value chain for it to make a tangible difference.

OL: Alongside the smart meter rollout, is there anything else policy-wise that will contribute to an improved energy market for microbusiness?

Geraldine Treacher [Policy Team Lead, DECC]: We’re thinking about whether there’s more we can be doing. The main job is to think about the rollout and ensure it works. I agree with the points to get businesses engaged, and we’re doing a lot to understand that better, but this is a market opportunity. We can expect to see firms try to position themselves as the supplier for certain sectors.

Thanks to all who attended
Sacha Deshmukh
Chief Executive, Smart Energy GB

Geraldine Treacher
Policy Team Lead, DECC

Paul Wedgwood
General Manager, Carbon Trust Scotland

Stephen Alambritis
Former Head of Public Affairs at FSB; Leader, Merton Council

Allan Creedy
Chairman, FSB Energy Policy

Chris Vinson
Public Affairs Manager, British Gas

Jonathan Elliot
Chief Executive, Make It Cheaper

Abdul Majid
President, Scottish Grocers Federation

Jim McVee
Head of Business Banking Direct UK, HSBC

Andrew Poole
Policy Advisor, Energy and Environment, FSB