Record numbers of households are switching their energy provider, a shake-up driven by increased choice and competition in the market and fresh consumer confidence in comparing and selecting tariffs. But businesses are lagging behind. According to data from utility consultancy Watt, 64% of businesses don’t plan on switching their energy supplier within the next 12 months. Small businesses are especially unlikely to change providers. In 2013 Ofgem found that 40% of SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) hadn’t changed provider in five years, suggesting many are stuck in outdated contracts, paying over the odds for their gas and electricity. Energy prices are rising but a surge of new small and mid-tier suppliers—there are now more than 50 business energy suppliers in the UK—has given both domestic and commercial consumers more choice. Meanwhile, acquisition tariffs for new consumers are often cheaper than retention or renewal rates. If it pays to switch, why aren’t more businesses doing it?
Many—25%, according to Ofgem research—say they haven’t changed energy provider because they believe the process is too complex. This barrier is particularly high for small businesses but owners of businesses of all sizes reported being daunted by the market. Big Six or upstart independent providers? How long should your fixed-rate contract be? What about renewable energy? Can smart meter technology save your business money? We get why it seems complicated and why business owners who readily switch their home suppliers balk at switching their commercial energy tariff. All households have approximately the same same energy needs: they’re running the same appliances, heating and lighting roughly the same square footage. But the energy budgets of businesses vary dramatically, even within the same sector. A small clothing retailer will have wildly different energy requirements than a big-box supermarket. That makes it all the more important that you ensure your energy tariff is suited to the unique needs of your business. Energy costs are often one of the costliest items on a business’ balance sheet: you can’t afford not to find the best one for you. We’re here to streamline the process of selecting a business energy tariff, by helping you compare prices, contract terms, energy sources and new technologies to find the provider and contract that best fits your business.
In general businesses can lock in energy prices for longer than domestic consumers, with fixed-rate contracts of up to three years. The longer the contract, the more expensive the bills will be, but your business will be safeguarded against any increases in price over the term of the contract.
Ofgem guarantees certain benefits for small businesses, enabling them to buy cheaper energy and change energy suppliers more easily. If your business consumers less than 100,000 kWh of electricity per year, uses less than 293,000 kWh of gas per year or has a fewer than 10 employees and an annual turnover of less than €2 million, it qualifies as a micro business. Most of the UK’s businesses meet one of the terms above.
As a micro business, unlike larger businesses, you can terminate your energy contract at any time with a notice period of just 30 days, making switching easier. In addition your fixed term renewal letter has to include data about your current prices, new prices, and your consumption—all the data you need to compare your current tariff to tariffs from other suppliers, if you’re contemplating a switch.
Smart meter technology has become increasingly common in domestic energy plans, and businesses are cottoning onto the economic and environmental benefits too. A smart meter is an electronic meter that replaces your old one, logs your energy consumption and directly communicates that information to your supplier. It means no more manual meter reading. It also gives you, the consumer, access to daily or even hourly information about your energy consumption, usually through a mobile app. If you’re aware of how much energy you’re using—in kilowatts and pounds and pence—you can make informed decisions about how to make your business more energy-efficient, trimming costs and protecting the environment while you’re at it.
Many businesses want to be conscious of their impact on the environment. Across the UK, electricity supply is the biggest overall source of greenhouse gas emissions. Green energy providers allow you to power your business with energy from renewable sources like wind and solar, rather than fossil fuels, reducing your own carbon footprint. You can also opt for contracts with paperless billing and smart meters to increase efficiency, increasing the sustainability of your business whether or not you opt for a green supplier. If you’re especially committed to making your business sustainable, you can apply for a feed in tariff (FIT), just like a domestic consumer. Under a feed in tariff, consumers can generate their own power and/or sell the excess back to the National Grid, in exchange for refunds. If you’re interested in installing solar panels on your business or operating a wind turbine on your commercial property, a feed in tariff might be right for you.
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