Senior figures from the energy sector convened at a First Voice roundtable debate, sponsored by Smart Energy GB, on the potential of the smart meter rollout.
The national smart meter rollout is one of the UK’s biggest infrastructure projects. By 2020, 53 million smart meters are expected to be installed in homes and businesses across the country.
In conjunction with Smart Energy GB, the voice of the smart meter rollout, First Voice hosted a roundtable event at the National Business Show in Torbay, bringing together figures from the small business world and the energy sector to discuss the benefits to business of improving energy efficiency.
Claire Maugham, Smart Energy GB’s director of policy and communications, chaired the event. These are edited highlights of the conversation:
Claire Maugham: Let’s look at the opportunities of the rollout for small business. How can we make the benefits a reality?
Allen Creedy: For FSB members, the ability for behavioural change is considerable. Reducing consumption, through a smart meter, may make a 20, 30 or 50 per cent difference. There’s a possibility for savings that will make the difference between a business surviving and not. The other issue is how smart meters are key to the possibility of members generating income from energy production, demand-side response, or generating for their own use.
Nick Bartlett: There are businesses that already have battery storage, but are unaware of it, in the form of forklift trucks. If they use solar power, can they get into the habit of plugging in and storing energy? We’ve already got mass storage systems. Smart meters are a start – now it’s about educating on energy management.
Chris Vinson: Smart meters are a part of the way energy needs to change to a more decentralised, flexible system. Just over the Tamar from here [Torbay], we have an investment project that is looking at installing battery storage, micro-combined heating units, small-scale renewables, and other technologies including smart meters, in 160 homes and businesses. It’s creating a local energy market allowing people to trade. They’re playing an active role in generation and consumption, which will ultimately lead to a more effective use of the network.
NB: What’s the financial implication to the supplier of reduced energy use?
Geraldine Treacher: In an old-fashioned world, the supplier might be concerned that consumption is reducing. But moving into a world where everyone has smart meters is an opportunity to create energy products that people like, and to use that as a customer-retention tool.
CV: On cost and extra services, we’re pro seeing businesses take control of their energy by understanding it better. We’re then able offer more tailored propositions. The rollout is a gateway to giving businesses more information and helping us, as suppliers, provide a better-quality service.
CM: How do we respond to consumer questions on switching? Some have found smart benefits can be lost.
CV: The issue around moving supplier is a temporary thing. In the short term, anyone who loses functionality will get it back because all meters are going to be enrolled [placed on a common system] by the end of the rollout. We’ve found customers with smart meters complain less, are happier with their service, and take advantage of the extra information they have.
Simon Beacham: We’re committed to SMETS 2 and the DCC [the second part of the rollout where a common data system will be introduced]. That framework will unlock smart metering and the advantages of switching supplier.
NB: In rural areas, there isn’t always full mobile and broadband coverage. So will we get 100 per cent coverage for this?
Rob Smith: It’s important that people don’t confuse whether they have mobile coverage with the ability of smart meters to communicate with the network. Smart meter data is communicated at a much lower bar than that for mobile coverage.
AC: Historically, we’ve campaigned around the regulated energy market. The variables were narrow – prices, contracts, terms and conditions, deposits. Suddenly, we have a variety of options. That’s great for the consumer, but we’ll need to be more aware of the options on offer so our members benefit.
CM: We have another strand of work on smart futures and the long-term benefits – in particular on what a future energy market might look like, and the innovations and companies that may, with data and relevant consents, offer new services. We’ve just published a paper by Dr Jeff Hardy of Imperial College, on the different types of energy service companies, and peer-to-peer companies, that will in future expand the choice available to consumers and modernise our energy sector.
Thanks to all who attended;
Head of Policy, Policy and Consumers, Smart Metering Implementation Programme, BEIS
Policy and Communications Director, Smart Energy GB
Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Smart Energy GB
Operational Training Strategy Manager, EDF Energy
Paul Fuller, Smarter Markets, Ofgem
Public Affairs Manager,
Corporate Commercial Manager, Make It Cheaper
Chairman, FSB Energy Policy
Policy Advisor, Energy and Environment, FSB