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Smart meter warning – you could unleash a love of spreadsheets (and a host of energy saving ideas)

Smart meters are the new generation of gas and electricity meters that are being rolled out by energy suppliers to homes and small businesses across Great Britain.

If you’re a small business with fewer than 10 employees, you may be able to upgrade to a smart meter for free. But be warned.  The new energy-use data you’ll have at your fingertips can unleash your number-crunching, spreadsheet-loving inner geek.

(Note: if you don’t have a smart meter yet, we’ve got a free measuring and monitoring guide and template spreadsheet that will help you gather and analyse your data, so you can find energy saving opportunities too.)

As the saying goes you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Smart meters take the guess work of how you are using your energy. We are also here to provide you with a free detailed opportunities assessment to find clever ways to cut your energy consumption.

Get hot under the collar with half-hourly energy data

Half-hourly energy data is a measure of your energy consumption (kWh) taken over a 30-minute period. It is automatically recorded by half-hourly meters – also known as 00 meters or business smart meters.

You can get your business’s half-hourly data on a spreadsheet from your energy provider. It will show your energy consumption recorded every half hour of each day and look something like the picture below.

On its own, the spreadsheet can look daunting, especially over an entire year – there will be over 17,000 readings for your eyeballs to contend with. However, some very simple analysis can transform your data and make it much more informative and valuable.

Transforming your data using graphs and charts

Turning your data into graphs or charts can display patterns in consumption and help you answer important questions, such as:

  • What is the annual trend of our electricity consumption?
  • What is our peak demand?
  • What is our baseline consumption?
  • How much energy is consumed during out-of-office hours?

An example. The annual energy profile of a typical office building is shown in the graph below, where the average daily consumption is tracked. The horizontal axis indicates the date and the vertical axis indicates the average consumption. It shows much more clearly   where the weekends occur as the average consumption dips.

The example below shows minimum (bottom line), average (middle line) and maximum (top line) daily energy consumption in a business over the course of the year. This can be useful information to help you understand levels of energy consumption on a daily basis, with the aim of getting average consumption as close to the minimum line as possible where feasible. The horizontal axis indicates the time of consumption throughout the day and the vertical axis indicates the energy consumption at that time.

Creating a pie chart from your data (see below) is also useful when comparing the energy your business uses during working hours with that used outside of working hours. It shows a simple visual representation of whether a more efficient use of energy is possible. Ideally, your consumption outside of working hours should be limited to business-critical operations such as servers, security lighting, etc.

Even hotter with half-hourly heat maps

Heat maps are another brilliant way to identify patterns of energy use and spot areas of high energy consumption. This is achieved by setting a conditional format to your dataset that turns a spreadsheet cell into a colour based on its contents (sounds tricky, but it’s really not – but it can still impress your boss).

In the example below, we’ve applied a conditional format that shows the highest period of consumption in red and lowest period in white, with proportional shading for everything in between.

Five things you can learn by getting geeky:

1.  Get a greater understanding of your energy consumption and costs at different times

Analysing half-hourly data provides your business with a detailed picture of when it consumes energy. This is great at helping you understand the cost impact of different business activities and processes and where to direct your energy saving projects first.

2.  Spot faulty equipment or processes that are wasting energy and profits

Does your data highlight any strange or unexpected spikes in energy use? When GHI Contracts Ltd, a business with a large office, looked at its smart-meter data, it discovered that the out-of-hours energy consumption was much higher than expected. In fact, it turned out that 8% of the business’s electricity costs was due to faulty heating controls. A fault that was quickly fixed.

3.  Know if your energy saving campaigns are working

Your half-hourly data can provide you with a true measurement of the impact your projects are having – a great way to know if the changes you are trying to implement are effective. And that’s powerful info to be able to share with your colleagues to keep them motivated. (If you’re serious about motivating staff to save energy, our free toolkit has lots of resources that will help).

4.  Review the impact of energy generation

This one’s best with an example – looking at the performance of a solar photovoltaic (PV) array at the Institute of Occupational Medicine Solar near Edinburgh. Half-hourly data was available before and after its installation.

The overall picture of average energy consumption per day shows how electricity purchases have been reduced during times of peak sunlight, due to the performance of the PV array. The full dataset can also be compared with solar generation figures allowing decisions to be made that will ensure the solar-energy consumption is maximised to improve the array’s performance.

5.  Reviewing potential storage requirements for reducing purchased electricity at expensive times

Many businesses have different energy tariffs at different times of the day, and day of the week. Typically, peak charges (usually around 17:00-19:30 Monday-Friday) are 50 times more expensive. Because of this, there is a lot of interest in energy storage as a way of reducing peak demand and cutting bills. Understanding if you can supply enough energy via stored methods to reduce, or remove, your peak charges can provide cost savings – and half-hourly data analysis can be the key. Your data can help you understand exactly how much energy you are consuming during peak-charge time bands to quantify the available benefits and storage requirements.


You can find out more about getting a smart meter for your small business on the Smart Energy GB website. If it does awaken your nerdy side, it’s a small price to pay for the insight and energy saving ideas you could find.

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