By Daniel Hunter

Nearly half (47%) of businesses are overlooking simple opportunities to cut their energy bills, despite more than two thirds (68%) prioritising operational efficiencies in 2012, according to new research by British Gas.

The few businesses focusing on driving efficiencies from their energy spend are seeing savings of up to 20 percent on their bills through simple efficiency steps like installing a smart meter, according to the research.

The findings come at a time when 75 percent of businesses say rising energy costs are their number one concern in managing their overheads. But when asked about the biggest barriers to taking steps to make savings on their bills:

- 80 percent of businesses say they want to keep the time they spend managing energy to a minimum and;

- 51 percent of businesses say they need help identifying options for reducing their energy costs.

Smart meters can help businesses tackle these barriers and make significant savings to their bill. Businesses can use insight from their smart meter to identify wastage and implement no or low cost efficiency measures.

According to the research, two thirds of businesses with smart meters have used its insight to invest in efficiency improvements such as boiler optimisation and building insulation that are allowing them to make significant savings to their bills.

Smart meters also save businesses valuable time by putting an end to estimated bills, allowing them to pay for the energy they use, as they use it.

Despite these benefits, take-up of smart meters remains low with just 29 percent of businesses saying they have had the new technology installed.

The research comes in follow-up to British Gas’s launch of Business Energy Insight in February — a free smart meter based service that gives businesses the tools and support to understand their energy usage and implement measures to reduce it. British Gas is the leading supplier of smart meters to UK businesses with over 200,000 smart meters on its customers’ walls, and a further 200,000 installations planned for 2012.

Dawn Ryan, from The Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society, started using a smart meter in 2011. Since then ALCS has stopped paying estimated bills, and with the support of their account manager’s energy efficiency expertise and the insight from their smart meter, has put a plan in place for reducing consumption.

“Managing our costs has been our number one priority since the economic downturn," she said.

"But before having a smart meter, I had no idea of the amount of money we were wasting by not paying closer attention to our electricity bills. My smart meter has opened my eyes to this and I’m now working with British Gas to take steps to understand what it’s telling me so I can take steps to reduce the amount of money I use on things like heating and other electrical appliances. It’s making a real difference to the way we run the business and we can invest these savings elsewhere.”

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