Smart meters help small businesses take back some control
The windows of the coffee shop are steamed up defiantly against the morning cold; the door ajar, leaking a warm glow onto the cobbled stones of Kinross High Street, tentatively seducing people to come inside and escape the drizzle.
Inside, amid the chatter, around half a dozen or so people sit – suitably socially distanced – sinking into the battered leather sofa or leaning their elbows against the wooden table that dominates the large area behind the entrance. Scarves and gloves are discarded, jackets slung over chair backs. Here, at least, near normal service is resumed.
Pride of place goes to the curious-looking coffee roasting machine that provides the staple product of the popular outlet, freshly ground and roasted coffee beans. To the back, a small kitchen, where avocado and sourdough toast vie with freshly baked banana loaf for the attention of discerning visitors.
One of the small and sleek white tap-and-go contact payment readers does brisk trade under the chic, almost Scandinavian feel of the high ceiling lights. Unorthodox Roasters is a powerhouse of activity, whatever energy is actually being used.
It seems like a perfect venue to be using a smart meter: hip, cosy, inventive and astute. But when asked, the co-owner behind the counter mulls the question over then concedes: “Actually no, for some reason that’s something we don’t have.”
He even checks with a colleague to be sure. No, they don’t. There’s no particular reason either. It just hasn’t been on their radar to look into it. Yet as he hands over the delicious vegan matcha green tea latte, there’s a glint in his eye suggesting that it is now.
They are not alone. Half a dozen or so other small businesses within direct view of the café window say they don’t have one either, all with the same answer. They just hadn’t considered it … yet.
If this picture is repeated across the country you can begin to see the scale of potential savings being lost to small businesses. Savings that could become ever more important here at this particular juncture, as Perth and Kinross and its near neighbour Fife join other areas across the nation in Level Three of Scotland’s coronavirus restrictions.
There simply is no business as usual anymore, which means every penny has to work harder and smarter. Heating, for example, accounts for around 39 per cent of energy use in the wider retail sector according to expert data published by the Retail Times, with lighting and refrigeration adding to that. Each of them offer areas for potential improvement.
Reason then for some to be looking at how smart meters can help save money in areas such as identifying unnecessary energy waste and providing accurate bills.
Take master butcher Iain Hunter, busy preparing the day’s displays of food. Rows of clean, regimented local produce ready for the steady stream of loyal customers who appreciate quality on their doorstep.
The early morning smell of freshly baked pies and sausage rolls wafts across the road to the coffee shop from his self-named Hunter’s the Butcher. String lights hauled up across the window deliver some much-needed cheer as they wink out through the November dark, framing the hive of early activity within.
All the team are masked up with breathable visors, hand sanitiser is stationed at the door for those coming in, a line marked on the floor in tape just for added distance and reassurance for the quota of those allowed in at any one time.
Established in 2008, it is clear in an instant of entering his shop just how much attention to detail Iain pays to his business, so it comes as no surprise that he has already looked into having a smart meter installed.
“It’s good for everyone,” he said, “It means suppliers could get the meter readings automatically without anyone having to come into the shop and that would be it.”
Smart meters provide more accurate bills reflecting the actual energy used without the need for meter readings or other distractions that can interrupt a busy working day.
Many small firms eligible for a smart meter – generally those with ten employees or under with a turnover below £2 million, though each business should check with their energy supplier for eligibility – have had one installed and are already enjoying the benefits of being in control of their energy spend.
The installation usually only takes around two hours and is booked in advance to avoid disruption. That is just 120 minutes in exchange for taking tighter control of your energy spend in these challenging times. It is hard enough to make a business work right now without worrying about unpredictable bills hitting the doormat when cashflows are in flux.
The potential for change is vast. The number of small firms operating in Scotland this time last year increased by 9,755 which gives some idea of just how much opportunity there is for new and existing business owners to do their bit for the environment and for themselves by reducing energy waste and spend. Each can find out if they are eligible for a smart meter simply by contacting their energy provider.
Robert Cheesewright, director at government-backed body Smart Energy GB, said: “More than four-fifths of business owners we recently surveyed said having more certainty about their estimated costs, including energy, would help them feel more in control.
“One simple step you can take to get control over your business’ energy spend is by getting a smart meter installed. Smart meters give you accurate bills for your business, so each month you only have to pay for the energy you actually use.”
Good news for bill payers, especially when accompanied by the hope of better days to come.
The Office of National Statistics reported last week that the UK economy had grown by 15.5 per cent between July and September after months of turmoil, bringing at least some potential relief for small businesses going into winter.
And as the butchers, coffee makers, hospitality workers and others across Scotland come to lock up at the end of another shift, perhaps new thoughts of a switch to smart meters as part of the green recovery might just be the lightbulb moment they need.
Small businesses should contact their energy supplier to see if they are eligible for a smart meter installation
This article was paid for by Smart Energy GB. Smart Energy GB is the organisation tasked with informing Britain about the benefits of smart meters