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Understanding business energy meters

By Nicole Wilson

Getting to know your energy meter at work

Magnifying glass examining a business energy meter

The basics

Energy meters at work have the same job as meters at home. They measure the amount of energy your business uses, in kilowatt hours for electricity, and cubic feet/cubic metres for gas. Some of them can communicate that figure directly to your supplier, and others leave that job up to you. 

Meter readings make your energy bills more accurate. If they're up to date, you'll only pay for the energy your business has used. If you or your meter haven't submitted a reading in a while, your energy supplier will use an estimate to guess how much you've used since your last payment. Your account and balance will reflect your real usage again whenever you next submit a reading. 

The type of meter your property has will depend on the size and nature of your business. Things like the type of equipment you use and your operating hours might also make a difference. Let's get more familiar with the different types of business energy meters out there in the wild. 

Single rate meters

These are the energy meters used by most businesses. A single rate meter means it doesn't matter what time of day you use energy, because the unit price (per kWh) will stay the same around the clock. 

If your business uses most of its energy Monday - Friday between 8am and 10pm, a single rate meter is usually the best choice. 

You can tell whether you have a standard meter installed because your 21-digit supply number will begin with an '03.' You can find this on any electricity statement in a box marked 'S.'

Two and three rate meters have a tariff set by your supplier

This is because the price per unit of energy (measured in kWh) changes depending on the time of day it gets used. Energy at night is cheaper, because the price is linked to demand on the grid. While you're busy working the nightshift, lots of other businesses are tucked up in bed.

Two rate meters

Illustration of a sun and a moon

A two rate meter has 2 unit prices according to the time of day. This means there's a cheaper off peak (or 'economy') price for energy used overnight.

The off peak period for two rate meters depends on your particular set up, but it's usually active between midnight and 7am. Two rate meters do not automatically adjust to daylight savings time, so the window for cheaper energy can shift depending on the time of year. Your supplier will be able to check this for you using your meter point number (MPAN).

Two rate meters are better value for businesses using more than 50% of their energy at night. They are also useful for properties with storage heaters.

Even within the two rate meter family, there are some relatives we need to talk about:

Economy 7

A common kind of two rate energy meter with a seven hour off-peak window.

Economy 10

A less common kind of two rate energy meter with a ten hour off-peak window.

Evening and weekend meter

A slightly more complicated set up which applies one rate to daytime usage and another rate to evenings and weekends.

Three rate meters

Evening, weekend and night meter

This kind of meter is a good idea for businesses like bars or nightclubs. Three rate meters apply one (more expensive) rate to daytime, another to evenings, and a third (the cheapest) to nighttime. 

Half-hourly meters

Illustrated 30 minute stopwatch

Half-hourly meters are usually installed in big businesses which use 100 kWh or more of electricity in any 30 minute period. Like their name suggests, these meters take a reading every half an hour and send this data automatically to your supplier via a telecoms network. This gives you and your supplier a much clearer picture of your energy usage, so you can be charged more accurately. Units of electricity will be more expensive at times of the day when there is high demand on the grid.

You can tell whether your business has a half-hourly meter installed because your 21-digit supply number will begin with '00.' You can find this on any electricity statement in a box marked 'S.' Half-hourly meters are sometimes called '00 meters' for this reason.

Businesses with a half-hourly meter will have an agreed Maximum Import Capacity. This figure represents the largest amount of energy you can draw from the grid at any one time and exists so that the Distribution Network Operator (DNO) can make sure there's enough supply to meet demand in your local area. If your business uses more than its agreed capacity, you'll be charged an Excess Capacity Charge by the DNO. This charge is payable through your supplier and will be detailed on your statement.

You'll need to ask for a bespoke quote if you have a half-hourly meter and you'd like to switch suppliers. This usually involves packaging up and sharing a year’s worth of energy data, which is known as your 'demand profile'.

AMR Devices

AMR (automated meter reading) devices are also capable of collecting and sharing half-hourly readings with your supplier.

AMR devices measure both gas and electricity and they tend to be used in bigger businesses that don't use enough energy to need a half-hourly meter.

Businesses pay an AMR provider for this service. These charges cover the meter itself which is often leased and repaid over several years, as well as the transmission network for the data it collects.

Some suppliers will pass on the charge for an AMR provider by adding it directly onto your business energy bill. At Bulb, we don't charge our members anything extra if they've got an AMR device.

Three phase meters

Not to be confused with three rate meters, three phase meters are installed in more energy-intensive businesses with a three phase supply.

The kind of equipment you have at work will affect whether you have a single or a three phase power supply. Three phase meters are generally reserved for businesses with high-power machinery (defined as equipment that demands 1000 watts consistently when powered on).

A three phase system minimises power loss, transmits energy more efficiently and maximises employee safety because it delivers a constant electrical load.

Three phase meters do not transmit usage data to your supplier. Most models have a screen display, which means you'll be able to read the meter yourself.

Smart meters

Smart meters are already being rolled out to homes across the UK, and businesses are set to benefit, too. Smart meters share your energy usage directly with your supplier. Not only will that save your team the hassle of reading meters manually, but it also means your bills will be more accurate, because your supplier will never need to estimate how much energy your business has used.

Every smart meter comes with a screen that means you can see your energy in pounds and pence. You'll be able to keep an eye on when your business uses the most energy, and get your team more engaged with saving energy, too.

If your business already has a half-hourly meter or an AMR device, you won't need to get a smart meter installed because your readings are being logged automatically with your supplier.

Smart meters help energy suppliers to better forecast demand and source greener power for the grid. So, as well as some nifty business benefits, they're an important step towards managing our national energy better in the future.

We're not currently installing smart meters for Bulb for Business members. We're still working on a smart tariff which would offer anyone with a smart meter a more reactive rate according to the time of day energy is used. At scale, this helps to balance the demand on the grid during peak hours. We'll be contacting our members when we're ready to start installing smart meters for businesses.

We've answered some common questions about smart meters over on our Help Centre.

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