A guide to smart meters for business

Les Roberts, Senior Content Manager at Bionic
By Les Roberts, Senior Content Manager

Getting a smart meter installed at your business premises means you’ll be able to see exactly how and when you’re using energy, which can really help to lower your bills and assist your energy efficiency efforts.

Let’s take a closer look at commercial smart meters.

What is a Smart Meter?

A smart meter is an electronic energy meter that wirelessly sends automatic gas and electricity meter readings to your supplier, for completely accurate energy bills. To help you better understand your energy usage, smart meters with a display screen show you exactly how much energy you’re using. 

What are the smart meter benefits for business?

Although they’re usually aimed at domestic energy customers, the benefits of smart meters can also be enjoyed by business owners, especially if you’re trying to lower your business energy bills and implement energy efficiency measures in your workplace.

Here are some of the key benefits of smart meters for business:

  • Accurate billing - no more estimated bills and no need to give your supplier a meter reading, which will save time, money and hassle.
  • Real-time energy usage data - to help you identify ways to reduce your energy spending.
  • A better energy deal - As your supplier knows exactly how much energy you’re using, they should be able to give you a more personalised deal and better energy-saving advice.

Is it compulsory to have a smart meter fitted at your business?

Having a smart meter installed at your business premise is completely free, so why are so many energy companies keen that you have one installed?

Although it’s not compulsory to have a smart meter installed, government policies mean that energy suppliers are obliged to offer one to all homeowners and all small business owners. 

Regulations aside, energy suppliers are keen to push the rollout of smart meters as it means they’ll no longer need to estimate business energy use and they can save money by cutting the number of meter readers they send to homes and businesses.

Why has the smart meter rollout been pushed back?

The estimated cost of the smart meter initiative is £7 billion, and this will be passed on to households and businesses via their energy bills. The original target of having 85% of smart meter installations completed by 2020 was pushed back to 2024. This has since been pushed back further, to the end of 2025.

This is largely due to spiralling costs and the technology not being quite up to scratch. In many cases, the smart meter software wouldn’t allow consumers to switch, meaning they’d need to get a new smart meter each time they changed suppliers.

This roll-out has since been further delayed until 2025 because of coronavirus.

How do smart meters work?

Each smart meter is made up of three components:

  • Smart meter (one for gas and one for electricity) - takes readings of your energy usage.
  • Communications hub - sends these readings to your energy supplier.
  • Smart meter energy monitor - displays your real-time energy usage so you can monitor it.

As you use energy, real-time updates are displayed on your monitor and up-to-date readings are sent to your supplier, which means you no longer need to spend time taking and sending meter readings - it may only save a few minutes each month, but every second saved is important when you’re a busy business owner.

Are smart meters free for businesses?

Technically, no. While there is no direct, upfront cost to you, smart meters are not free. The installation costs that suppliers incur from installing smart meters are recovered through an increase in the price of your energy bills.

How to read a smart meter

Smart Meters send readings to your supplier automatically. You can view these readings from your smart energy monitor. Each model of a smart energy monitor functions slightly differently, so you should consult your user guide for further information, bearing in mind you might need to check how to read a gas smart meter and an electricity smart meter separately.

Will having a smart meter affect the privacy of your data?

If you’ve any concerns about the data shared by your smart meter, it’s worth knowing that you can choose how much information you share with your supplier and how regularly they collect remote meter readings from your smart meter. 

If you want to limit the amount of data your supplier sees, you should consider the following points:

  • Sharing regular meter readings with your supplier more frequently means they can better help you understand your usage. Having a better understanding of how and when you use energy means you’ll make it easier for Bionic’s tech-enabled experts to find you a better deal at renewal.
  • By default, your supplier will most likely collect data from your smart meter once a month, but they can take more regular half-hourly or daily readings if you’d prefer. If this is the case, you should speak to your supplier before your smart meter is installed. If you change your mind, you should be able to change your meter reading preference at any time by calling your supplier.
  • For data protection, you should let your supplier know whether you’re happy to have details of your energy usage shared with other organisations, such as research agencies who may get in touch to ask you about your smart meter experiences.
  • It’s also worth checking your supplier’s marketing preferences, as they might use your meter data to promote other products they offer.

How to get smart meters for small business use

Your energy supplier will provide and fit a smart meter at your business premises completely free of charge - there are no point of service charges as the costs of the smart meter rollout are absorbed by extra charges on everyone’s energy bills.

You can get a smart meter fitted at your workplace in three simple steps:

  • Request a smart meter from your energy supplier.
  • They’ll arrange an appointment for the engineer to visit your premises.
  • On this date, an engineer will fit your meter. Smart meter installation typically takes about an hour per meter.

Your smart meters will need to be fitted in the same place as your existing meters, so you’ll need to clear this area before your installation appointment.