As part of its energy efficiency drive, the government has asked energy suppliers to offer smart gas and electricity meters to every home and small business in the UK – a total of some 53 million smart meters.
The aim of the initiative, the deadline for which is now 2024, is to “deliver a smarter, more flexible energy system that supports innovation in new smart products and services”.
Here, we answer your questions about smart meters, how they could benefit your business, and what you need to do to get one.
What is a smart meter?
A smart meter is a digital, wireless-enabled gas or electricity meter that shows both you and your supplier how much energy you are using in kilowatt hours (kWh) – and how much it’s costing you in pounds and pence.
There are two main types: the original version, Smart Meter Equipment Technical Specifications (or SMETS 1), and a newer model that makes it easier for consumers and businesses to switch suppliers, known as SMETS 2.
Both models provide information about your energy usage more or less in real time. The display on a gas smart meter refreshes every 30 minutes, while the one on an electricity smart meter updates every 10 seconds.
They therefore allow you to manage your consumption, while avoiding the hassle of taking meter readings and the uncertainty of estimated bills.
What is a smart meter for business?
A smart meter for business – or business smart meter – is simply a smart meter that is installed in a “non-domestic” property.
According to the government website, the smart meter roll-out covers around two million such sites, the majority of which are microbusinesses and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Smart business meters offer the same benefits as those installed in people’s homes: close to real-time energy consumption information that could help you make your business more energy efficient – for example, by switching to a new tariff that better suits when and how you use energy.
Being able to share the data provided with third parties should also make it easier to take advantage of external energy management services where necessary.
For suppliers, meanwhile, smart meters make it easier to spot potential issues, which could help to prevent supply problems hitting your bottom line.
Does my business qualify for a smart meter?
Under the terms of the government programme, energy suppliers should install smart meters at gas sites where the annual consumption is no more than 732 MWh per year, as well as all electricity sites in profile classes 1 to 4 (which includes most “non-domestic” consumers).
Installation is free, and must conform to the Ofgem-approved Smart Metering Installation Code of Practice (SMICoP), which was developed to ensure high service standards and covers installation, testing, and fault resolution.
However, if your business already has an “advanced” meter that sends accurate readings to your supplier, the company may not have to replace it with a smart meter.
Businesses also have the right to refuse the offer of a smart meter and/or ask for an advanced meter that sends data solely to the supplier to be fitted instead.
Why should I get a business smart meter?
Having a smart meter installed at your business premises is free of charge. The benefits include:
reducing your energy consumption and therefore your carbon footprint as well as your bills.
Are there any disadvantages to a business smart meter?
It’s not cheap to install smart meters in millions of home and business premises. The overall cost of the programme is expected to be around £12 billion.
Energy bills are expected to increase across the board as a result, which could potentially add hundreds of pounds to your annual energy outlay. So, even though having a smart meter fitted is notionally free, you’ll pay a percentage of the overall smart meter installation bill whether you have a smart meter or not.
The good news is that you can use your business smart meter to cut your bills back down to size – but only if you are proactive about using the data it provides to cut your energy usage and/or switch to a cheaper tariff.
Can I switch energy supplier if I have a business smart meter?
In the future, it’s hoped smart meters will make moving from one energy supplier to another even easier because all suppliers will be able to use the information any given meter provides.
However, due to a glitch, the first-generation smart meter – or SMETS 1 – sometimes stops working properly when you switch to a new supplier.
You can still go ahead and switch, but if this happens, you will have to ask your new supplier to fit a replacement smart meter if you want to continue to benefit from real-time data on your energy consumption.
When you book your smart meter installation appointment, it’s therefore worth asking for a SMETS 2 model. Most suppliers are now fitting these as standard.
Who can see my business smart meter data?
The information gathered by your smart meter can be seen by you and your energy supplier.
You can share the data provided with third parties if you wish.
But the law states that your energy supplier can only share the data it has on you if it has your express permission to do so.
How can I get a business smart meter?
Under the terms of the smart meter roll-out, your energy supplier is obliged to offer to install a smart meter within the next four years – as long as your business qualifies for the scheme.
If you have yet to be contacted and would like a smart meter, a call to your supplier should be all that’s needed to set the process in motion.
Once your request has been logged, you will be given an appointment for a smart meter engineer to visit your business premises and install your new meter. This will usually involve installing two meters – one for gas and one for electricity.
It takes about an hour to install each meter, so your appointment should take no longer than two hours.
Just remember to clear the area around your existing meter so the engineer has space to work.
If you’re planning to switch providers, it may also be a good idea to do this before booking your smart meter installation appointment.