Recent research by the British Chambers of Commerce and British Gas shows that, despite reductions in energy prices from suppliers like us more than two-thirds of businesses have seen their energy costs increase or remain stable over the past three years. We think it’s vital to help those businesses find ways to take control and reduce their costs.
Concerns about pricing, regulation, security of supply and carbon reduction all contribute to what seems like a complex marketplace. For many small businesses, it can appear challenging to reduce what can be a significant operating cost.
But there are a host of changes taking place that will simplify the way businesses interact with the energy market. Crucially, many of these harness new technologies and internet-connected devices bring greater clarity and control over energy bills.
By far the most significant change will be the roll-out of Smart meters. These meters, effectively digital replacements of existing analogue electricity and gas meters, will mean sending meter readings to your supplier and receiving estimated bills will be a thing of the past.
Perhaps more importantly, customers who use Smart meters feel they can understand and control their energy use by reviewing the data Smart meters can show them through our online portal. British Gas currently has 30,000 businesses using this type of service. This means they can save money by seeing their energy costs, when they use it on a daily basis. This can help them to change their habits to save on energy costs.
Overall, the Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates that the benefits to be realised through Smart meters for micro businesses, which make up 96% of UK businesses, are significant, amounting to approximately Â£1.44 billion in net microbusiness consumer benefits.
Smart meters are just the beginning of an increasing interest in new connected technologies that embrace the Internet of Things. In Britain more than 300,000 homes now control their heating remotely with British Gas’ Hive Active Heating TM product, which helps users control heating and hot water remotely through a laptop or smartphone. We’re testing this technology with small business owners too, to help them feel able to see their business in action even when they’re not there, and ensure that energy is used in the most effective way. In the future many appliances will be connected, and Hive already supplies smart plugs and motion sensors for homes.
Even boilers will become connected appliances. Intelligent boiler technology and remote diagnostics are allowing boilers to communicate with business owners and third parties like British Gas when something goes wrong. British Gas began offering its ‘Boiler IQ’ to residential customers in March, and will eventually roll-out to businesses. The challenges faced through boiler breakdowns will be greatly reduced as the product allows faults to be diagnosed remotely, communicated to the engineer and can often be fixed more quickly.
Of course, businesses should not rely solely on technology to ensure that they’re on the right deal. As wholesale energy prices have decreased over the past year, so too has the price being offered by energy suppliers for new contracts. Fixed term contracts, which won’t automatically renew when they reach the end of their fixed period, often offer businesses the best deal. British Gas’ average new contract prices for business customers have decreased by nearly 4% for electricity and around 15% for gas compared to March 2015, demonstrating that reviewing your contract at renewal is well worth the effort.
We make it easy for our customers to manage their account online. We are also testing a new suite of business offers to reward the loyalty of customers.
So the energy market is changing with the times and small businesses could do more to take to take control and reduce their energy costs.
 Department for Energy & Climate Change, Smart meter impact assessment, January 2014