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Smart Energy Control

24 June 2008

The Carbon Trust has suggested that metering technology can reduce the average business’ energy
consumption by 12.3 per cent a year. Charlie Crossley Cooke explains how installing smart meters can help businesses control their energy usage and costs

HISTORICALLY THE ENERGY MARKET HAS BEEN VERY LIMITED in its support for smaller businesses. However continuous investment and innovative thinking by companies like Opus Energy means that the ability to manage energy consumption and thus reduce costs is now more widely accessible to all businesses – large and small. No longer is the electricity industry simply about who offers the cheapest tariff. It is now about who can offer the best energy supply package at the best rate.

Small, independent electricity suppliers like Opus Energy, are at the forefront of helping UK business embrace the changing dynamic of the energy market and in particular mitigate the financial risks that come from heightened volatility in energy prices.

We often see companies, coming to the end of their existing two or three year energy contract, which are now experiencing a more challenging energy environment than they are used to due to the considerable price rises which have taken place during this period.

The good news is that, despite the market being more volatile than two years ago, new and innovative technologies have become available during this time that can give businesses much greater control over their energy usage. Businesses are finding that, in conjunction with the right energy provider, powering a business has become more environmentally friendly, dynamic and cost-effective than ever before.

Managing consumption
Undoubtedly, one of the most innovative new technologies to be introduced into the electricity market is the smart meter. As well as empowering more informed energy purchasing, research by the Carbon Trust has suggested that smart metering technology will be able to reduce the average business’ consumption by 12.3 per cent a year.

Smart meters can store up to a year’s worth of half-hourly readings which are transmitted at regular intervals to the energy provider by a GSM mobile messaging system. The data provided by a smart meter is made available to the customer on a secure website. Customers have access to current, accurate meter readings allowing them to easily review their monthly energy usage and monitor the company’s energy efficiency.

A business using a smart meter can determine the patterns of their energy usage, for example, using the readings to determine how much energy continues to be used at night time when the business might be closed, or where the peak usage comes during each day. Businesses can then use this information to cut out any unnecessary energy usage they otherwise would have been unaware of.

In other words, the introduction of smart meters has simplified the process of determining usage and ensuring accurate billing for businesses.

Opus Energy was the first company to offer free smart meters in the UK to its customers, having realised that the meters can deliver huge advantages. In August of last year it unveiled a £5m rollout programme and intends to have installed 10,000 smart meters by the end of 2008.

Thortons metered
Following conversations with Opus Energy, Thorntons recently installed smart meters in over 300 of its stores across the UK.

The smart meter readings from each site are collated automatically and presented in a report by an account manager at Opus Energy to Thorntons. This report data gives a macro overview of energy consumption levels across the Thorntons portfolio.

Thorntons was able to quickly reap the benefits. Within six months, Thorntons used smart meter readings to identify areas of energy usage and potential wastage across their portfolio. The business then took the necessary steps to reduce the electricity consumption of some sites by up to 7 per cent.

Thorntons have derived an additional benefit from the smart meter report. The data collated enabled Opus Energy to undertake a review of the electricity supply tariffs and structures being used across the portfolio. Data recorded from a number of premises showed that the electricity supply tariff could be reconfigured to better reflect the premises usage throughout the day, resulting in a better suited and more economic energy tariff for Thorntons.

More specifically, by measuring the energy consumption of each site at half hourly intervals, smart meter readings showed that for the bulk of Thorntons’ stores the majority mega watt usage occurred between 9am and 5pm, with a level of consumption continuing over night to power refrigeration equipment. These stores were placed onto an appropriate settlement configuration and small business tariff.

For a small number of other stores, greater levels of electricity consumption were found at weekends or during the night. By reacting to the specific smart meter data, Opus Energy was able to accurately assign the most economical settlement configuration to each store thereby optimising the cost of Thorntons’ energy

Caroline Simpson, Senior Buyer for Thorntons, was pleased to be able to cut down on unnecessary overheads for the business. “Having the ability to closely monitor our electricity consumption with smart meters has translated into significant savings made to the business’ energy costs and also given us the ability to budget more accurately for future months.

“It is vital for businesses to be in full control of their outgoings. Energy is a much bigger priority for UK companies than it was even as little as two years ago. At the moment, only the smaller independent energy providers are able to react quickly enough to market conditions in order utilize new initiatives such as smart meters which allow businesses better understanding of their consumption and give them the ability to take greater control over their costs.”

● Charlie Crossley Cooke is MD and founder of leading independent electricity supplier Opus Energy

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