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Smart meters and what they mean for your small business

You might have heard smart meters being mentioned recently – but just in case you haven’t, we’re going to take a look at what they are, what they mean for your small business and how it will affect your energy bills if you have one installed.

Smart meters are part of a new government initiative that intends to digitally measure your gas and electricity readings, this replaces the previous method of estimates. These readings will then be sent directly on to your energy supplier and you will receive an up-to-date and accurate energy bill. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Smart meters and what they mean for your small business

So why is everyone talking about smart meters?

This supplier-led change is being brought about due to a Government requirement. The new requirements mean that energy companies must install smart meters in both domestic homes and small business premises by 2019, if they are wanted.

They are not a legal requirement, but they will eventually become the new norm for energy measurement throughout the UK.

At the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) we believe the roll-out of smart meters will enable small businesses to take control of their energy use and in turn lower bills. There’s also no need for you to worry about this change, because it will be taken care of by your energy supplier.

Your provider will install the meter for you, fit your in-home/business display, show you how to use it, and provide you with energy efficiency advice. Find out more about this in the Smart Meter Installation Code of Practice.

How could it benefit my business?

Good question. Firstly, the installed meter takes readings every half an hour and because it’s so accurate, it means that your energy bills will be too. 

The advantage of having a display feature in your business or home is getting real-time updates. You’ll be aware of exactly how much energy you’re using and when you’re using it. It’s a great way to improve energy efficiency, in the long run you might be able to save some money.

Smart meters are also the first step to a smarter market in general, enabling you to switch suppliers more quickly and easily, and creating opportunities for new tariffs and services that are tailored to how and when your business uses energy.

What do the industry experts say about smart meters?

Over the next couple of years, one industry expert, British Gas, will design and install around 10 million smart meters across the UK.

We had the chance to speak to British Gas about the initiative and the concerns surrounding it. At FSB we want to make sure that our members are completely informed, we intend to dispel the common misconceptions related to smart meters.

For example, a review of their smart meter data found that 46 per cent of business electricity use was happening outside of the traditional business hours of 8am-6pm. 

This means businesses could improve their efficiency just by making sure there was no unnecessary electricity use when they left the office. Simple actions such as ensuring computers were fully switched off would go a long way towards saving both energy and funds.

Busting the myths surround smart meters

With any advance in technology or change to the way we do business, there are bound to be myths and rumours floating around. We’re going to take a look at some of these ideas and try to sort the fact from the fiction.

“Your smart meter can be ‘hacked’ so that thieves can access data about your business.”

As with any online data, vigilance is strongly advised.

However, your smart meter must meet strict security standards specified by Government and any data sent is protected by an Advanced Encryption Standard which is, impressively, more complex than that used for internet banking.

Smart meters will not monitor which appliances are being used in your business. They only record meter readings and automatically send these meter readings back to energy suppliers, at most once a day. 

People can easily opt out of that service and can choose to have their meter reads recorded monthly instead.

"The smart meter roll-out is just costing me more money on my energy bill."

You might see a slight rise in your energy bills to compensate for the new technology, this is the same for everyone. There will not be any upfront costs when it comes to installation.

Keeping costs low is a priority for energy companies and they have made their roll-outs as efficient as possible. 

Your current meter has to be replaced periodically already, and when speaking to British Gas they believe the increased cost of installing a smart meter is insignificant in comparison. 

FSB have carefully considered this fact, and believe the costs will be outweighed by the benefits provided by smart meters to customers. 

“I will have to close my business to have one installed.”

Energy suppliers normally install meters from 8am – 6pm on weekdays, but if that doesn’t work for you then they often try to find a time and day that does. 

Once there, they generally only need to switch off your electricity or gas for around 20 minutes to allow them to safely change your meter. Perhaps a small price to pay for better savings on your energy bills.

“I rent or lease my premises from a commercial landlord so I can’t have one.” 

In principle this shouldn’t stop you from having one installed, and you’re not alone - many businesses rent their premises. FSB recommends that get in touch with your landlord to ask for permission to have one installed.

“There are health risks from smart meters.”

Smart meters send a message using a SIM card, similar to a text message from your mobile phone, with meter readings back to energy suppliers once a day. 

Public Health England (PHE) – formerly the Health Protection Agency – states there is no evidence to suggest that exposure to the radio waves produced by smart meters poses any health risk. 

Where do we go from here?

No need to worry – there isn’t anything that you need to do. There is something we might be able to help you with though. 

FSB recently unveiled a new energy service that our members can benefit from. FSB Energy is helping members find and secure better rates for their business electricity and gas, ensuring they stay on lower, fairer rates for longer.

If you’re an FSB member, and want more advice about smart meters, you can call FSB Energy on 0800 035 3819 for business or 0800 980 2095 for domestic. Just have your membership number to hand, or alternatively visit fsbenergy.org.uk for further information.

A big thank you to Ian Shaylor, Head of non-domestic smart metering at British Gas, for helping answer some of the queries posed within this article.

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