By Mark Williamson

Metering, monitoring and targeting is a well understood procedure for gaining significant energy and cost savings. Many firms with large energy bills already know this and make use of advanced metering systems to provide good quality data on energy consumption. However, new research from the Carbon Trust shows that smaller businesses can also benefit from advanced metering of electricity, gas and water usage.

From 2004 to 2006 the Carbon Trust carried out the first UK field trial of advanced metering for SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) users. The trial aimed to demonstrate the potential benefits of the technology and to understand the case for encouraging widespread adoption of advanced metering by SMEs. Over 580 advanced meters were installed in SMEs across the UK and metering services were provided to these sites.

The study demonstrated that SMEs using advanced metering can identify an average of 12 percent carbon savings and implement an average of 5 percent carbon savings though reduced utility consumption. The SMEs involved in the trial achieved average annual savings of over £1,000 and 8.5 tonnes of carbon per site.

The Carbon Trust study revealed a very strong business case for using advanced metering at multi-site SMEs, such as retail and wholesale chains, and for energy intensive sectors such as manufacturing. For single-site companies with lower energy consumption the business case was less compelling, with paybacks over five years in most cases. However, modelling indicates that there will also be a clear business case for single-site SMEs in the future, as the costs of metering services are driven down by innovation, automation and economies of scale.

If advanced metering was adopted across the SME community, savings equivalent to 2 percent of all UK business carbon emissions could be identified. This represents savings of 5.1 megatonnes of carbon and £650 million in energy costs. To date, however, energy suppliers have lacked appropriate incentives to provide advanced metering services across the entire commercial sector.

In light of the significant carbon savings available at net financial benefit to the UK, the Carbon Trust has called for a mandated rollout of advanced meters for SMEs, initially focused on those companies where the technology can be most cost effective. The Government’s Energy White Paper, published earlier this year, referred directly to the Carbon Trust’s findings and announced a consultation on a proposal for energy suppliers to extend advanced metering services to smaller businesses within the next five years.

SMEs account for almost 20% of the UK’s overall carbon emissions and the benefits of advanced metering are obvious in terms of cost and carbon savings. Over the next few years significant actions are expected to be taken to drive the market forward and achieve a widespread rollout of this important technology to SME users.

BANDVULC TYRES
South Devon tyre reprocessing company Bandvulc Tyres has seen significant benefits from the move to advanced metering. As one of the 580 businesses involved in the Carbon Trust’s Advanced Metering Accelerator, the company has been able to cut its energy bills by as much as 10 percent, using an advanced metering system which will pay for itself in less than two years.

Bandvulc is a European leader in retreading tyres for heavy goods vehicles and spends over £300,000 a year on energy. Prior to installing a set of advanced meters the only information it received about energy consumption was in the form of half-hourly readings from the main electricity meter, and this was only available after a month-long time lag.

Installing advanced gas and electricity meters, including eight submeters to monitor specific processes around the site, cost £5,600. The half-hourly data they provided was used to highlight areas where energy was being wasted. Cost effective improvements ranged from lagging the tyre presses and steam system to cleaning skylights to cut the need for lighting. The meters provided accurate feedback on the effectiveness of each measure and have been used to encourage a culture of energy management and continuous improvement. So far, annual cost savings of almost £31,000 have been achieved and further energy saving projects are now planned.