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The benefits and challenges of smart energy meters for businesses

A member of the Greenwise team looks at the pros and cons of smart meters for businesses as suppliers continue to rollout the technology.

Smart energy meters for domestic customers have been relatively commonplace in the energy market for a few years – and smart meters for businesses are now starting to become more widespread.

With many business energy suppliers actively encouraging their customers to opt for the new metering technology, the need for business owners to understand more about smart meters is growing.

Smart meters are able to send energy usage information directly to suppliers, meaning businesses are billed more accurately. The meters also provide businesses with a valuable, real-time insight on their consumption levels, so that owners can identify areas of high usage and budget more effectively for energy expenditure in the future.

This could spell out big savings for businesses, as they would be able to monitor the cost impact of various appliances and take the appropriate action to minimise their consumption.  

Neither the government nor industry watchdog, Ofgem, has outlined a universal standard for smart meter technology

Suppliers are now required to fit smart meters in as many small businesses as possible, with the aim of every energy consumer – domestic and business – having one in place by 2020. The government rolled out this scheme in an effort to make the energy market fairer for all consumers. 

The problem with business smart meters

However, there is one notable issue with business smart meters – neither the government nor industry watchdog, Ofgem, has outlined a universal standard for smart meter technology. This means that each supplier has developed their own technology for the smart meters they install, making them incompatible with the systems used by other suppliers.

As an example, if a business has a smart meter installed by Supplier A, and the business then decides that they want to switch to Supplier B, it’s more than likely that Supplier B will not be able to use the installed smart meter, as their technology would not be aligned.

The meter would still be usable, but it would effectively lose its ‘smart’ functions. The business would still be able to take manual readings from the meter and submit them to their new supplier, but if they fail to do so they'll be subject to estimated readings and inaccurate billing.

Businesses may also be put off switching if they have to go through a new meter installation every time they change suppliers – which they may have to pay extra for. 

Talking solutions

Until a regulated, standard technology is introduced and enforced across the whole energy market, smart meters may actually be less than ideal for business customers. Because the government requires suppliers to install them, though, businesses may still be forced to use smart meters for their energy – which can come with hefty installation fees.

Fortunately there are alternatives when it comes to smart meter installations, with third parties such as Make It Cheaper able to arrange meter installation at a fraction of the price a supplier may charge.

With neither Ofgem nor the UK government showing any signs of enforcing a standard any time soon, the solution to the smart meter problem may come down to suppliers.

If all energy providers – both business and domestic – put their heads together and agree on a standard technology for the meters, it would allow businesses to get the full range of benefits that smart meters have the potential to offer. This would allow freer switching between suppliers and make for an altogether fairer energy market.