How smart meters will change the way you think about energy

It may seem like everything is becoming ‘smart’ these days.  Many of us couldn’t live without our smart phone and a trip to any electrical store will tell you that our TVs, watches and fridges are all going smart too. The irony is, the last big thing to go this way is the very thing that powers all these gadgets: electricity.

Despite the amazing technology around us, energy suppliers like us still send people out to read a little analogue dial that spins around as electricity or gas is consumed. We even send bills based on an estimate if we don’t have a meter reading.

Just imagine if your phone provider sent you a bill based on an estimate of your usage, and gave you no information about who you’d called, when, and in which country.  It’s unlikely you’d be happy with the service you were receiving.  You’d be left wondering how to manage calls in line with how much you wanted or could afford to pay, or if it was even right in the first place.

This is happening now to homes and businesses across the country when they open their energy bill.

I hope you’ll agree this is a situation that has to change, and finally it is, thanks to Smart meters. The government wants all businesses (and domestic households) to have them by 2020, and they’re already changing the way many big businesses manage their energy use.

Now suppliers including British Gas are rolling them out to all small businesses, and I’m keen to explain how they could help small business see their energy consumption differently.

Putting you in control

A Smart meter is a digital replacement of your existing analogue electricity and gas meter. It works by transmitting meter readings to us via a SIM card in the meter, just like a mobile phone. It means once you’re connected you don’t need to send us meter readings and we don’t need to estimate your usage – Smart meters send us information showing exactly what energy you use, so we can bill you accordingly.

British Gas also offers an online monitoring service, where customers can access more information about their energy use. This means our customers can see what they’re using and, crucially, when they’re using it.

We’ve installed more than 500,000 Smart meters for businesses, and more than one third  of our small business customers have one. They tell us there are two main benefits of a Smart meter.

First, they appreciate that readings are sent automatically once connected. Not only does this mean their bills aren’t estimated, but also they don’t have to read their meter anymore and can be sure they just pay for what they use.

Second, they feel they can understand and control their energy use by reviewing the data Smart meters can show them. This means they save money by seeing what energy costs them on a daily basis and when they use it.

We completed a review of our Smart meter data a few years ago which showed that 46% of business’ electricity use was happening outside of the traditional business hours of 8am-6pm. Many businesses could have been spending more money than they needed to, just by leaving lighting or equipment switched on.

In the near future, the benefits of Smart meters will expand as suppliers can design offers that better fit their customers’ energy consumption. British Gas has been trialling what are called ‘Time of Use’ tariffs with 4,000 residential Smart meter customers. Customers benefit from cheaper electricity rates at different ‘off-peak’ periods of the day – ‘peak’ is typically classed as between 4pm – 8pm on weekdays. These trials should lead to similar offers for businesses, which could save them money.

And once all meters are connected to the independent Smart meter hub – or Data Communication Company (DCC) – businesses will be able to switch more easily and quickly between suppliers.

All of these improvements will mean businesses will be able to manage their energy accounts like never before, changing the way they see what they’re using and how they’re using it.

Apply for a meter online

British Gas previously installed a Smart meter in certain circumstances, such as when an old meter was due to be replaced. I’m excited to say that this year we’ve decided to broaden this out and allow our customers to register on our website if they’d like to get one earlier.

We’re contacting customers in the next few months to encourage them to sign up. But I really want to encourage all British Gas Business customers to apply, by filling in a short form on our website at http://www.britishgas.co.uk/business/energy-services/monitoring/smart-metering

Busting the myths

You still may not be convinced by the benefits of Smart meters, and you may have heard some of the myths that are being passed around. It’s worth going through the facts behind some of the common concerns that our customers ask us about, to help you make an informed decision.

Myth one: The Smart meter roll-out is just costing me more money on my energy bill.

A:   Keeping the cost of the programme low is a priority for us and we have focused on making our roll-out as efficient as possible. Additionally, your current meter has to be replaced periodically already, and the cost of installing a Smart meter is negligible in comparison. And we believe the costs will be outweighed by the benefits provided by Smart meters to customers.

Myth two: There are health risks from Smart meters.

A:    Smart meters send a message using a SIM card, similar to a text message from your mobile phone, with meter readings back to British Gas 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.

Myth three: I will have to close my business to have one installed.

A:   The last thing we want to do is disrupt your business. We normally install meters from 8am – 6pm on weekdays, but if that doesn’t work for you then we’ll try to find a time and day that does. We will offer you a 2 hour appointment window. Once we’re there, we generally only need to switch off your electricity or gas for around 40 minutes to allow us to change your meter safely. A typical installation can take about an hour. Our customer feedback has been very positive on our flexibility around business needs.

Myth four: I rent or lease my premises from a commercial landlord so I can’t have one.

A:   In principle this shouldn’t stop you from having a Smart meter installed, and you’re not alone – many businesses rent their premises. We recommend that you get in touch with your landlord to ask for permission to have one installed so you and any future tenants can benefit.

Myth five: I can’t have a Smart meter yet.

A:   Whilst many of our gas-only domestic size meters will have to wait a little longer for Smart meters to be available for them, our electricity and larger business gas users can certainly have their Smart meter today.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within the British Gas Business Blog are those of the author alone and do not represent those of British Gas. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this blog are not guaranteed. British Gas accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright in the content within the British Gas Business Blog belongs to the authors of such content and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. For more information about the mix of fuels used to generate our electricity simply visit britishgas.co.uk/business/about-us. You can find information about how to make a complaint at britishgas.co.uk/business/complaints.

-->