Part two: Powering down

Finding a new energy provider will bring down bills for your business. You can do it yourself, but seeking out advice can be a good idea

By Adam Bernstein | Published:  17 February, 2018

With rising energy bills comes the need to invest time in seeking out the best deal. While finding a new energy provider isn’t a money-making exercise, it is something that will lower costs. It is something that can be done alone, but sometimes two heads are better than one.

This is because unlike the domestic market, the business energy supply works in a way that makes a quick online comparison not so simple. While the domestic market is largely based on location, Chris Caffery, an advisor at Utility Options Ltd, an independent energy consultancy, says the commercial market uses a number of elements that determine the tariff cost: “There is a varied mix of wholesale rates, transportation costs, government taxes and levies and, of course, profit for the suppliers. Generators still rely heavily on coal, oil and gas, so actual or anticipated costs of these fuels can create large differences in retail prices.”

Go compare?
Going online to make a comparison isn’t easy. There are a great many more online comparison websites for domestic energy than there are for commercial suppliers. “One of the main reasons for this,” says Chris, “is that domestic tariffs set by suppliers have a longer ‘shelf life’ usually due to a slightly higher margin placed on domestic for this very reason.”

Other factors are considered such as credit rating (because firms are effectively borrowing from the supplier), and the length of contract (a deal may be poorer at first but over time this improves as market prices rise). Using a broker or consultant doesn’t always guarantee price transparency though; it’s not easy to compare the price that’s being offered unless there’s a change in broker, particularly if the negotiations are happening a day or two before renewal. The advice? Don’t leave negotiations until just before the renewal is due as it doesn’t give an opportunity to shop around.

As to what could be saved, Chris offers two examples: “We’ve been helping a large motor vehicle repair specialist in Kent that employs 25 staff. Last year alone we saved 21% for that customer which equated to around £2,800 in monetary terms.”

The second example involves another Kentish firm, a medium sized garage in Ashford. “We consistently save them around 11% over and above their supplier’s renewal prices. This saving works out at around £600 per annum.”

Chris says that using a consultant isn’t just about the rates that are negotiated. It’s about saving time and not to having to deal with suppliers – “sometimes the extra added services can far outweigh the visual savings on the utility bills.”

Clearly, there are a number of lessons that can be drawn. Plan well in advance for benchmarking and renewing (switching) contracts. The energy companies would much prefer customers on standard tariffs, but with some planning and effort, decent savings can be made.

Getting redress
In the majority of instances the energy supply relationship works out well, but where there’s a suspicion of unfair treatment, and the relationship breaks down, there is a natural inclination ask about rights of redress.

There are two avenues of complaint open to firms who think they have been unfairly treated. All suppliers have an in-house complaints process. But having exhausted that route, the next step is to try the Energy Ombudsman to have a complaint taken further. The ombudsman can only help microbusinesses (defined as having an annual consumption of electricity of not more than 100,000 kWh, or gas consumption of not more than 293,000 kWh; or fewer than 10 employees (or their full-time equivalent), and an annual turnover or annual balance sheet total not exceeding €2 million. Ofgem doesn’t get involved with individual complaints but it does have plenty of information on its website that may prove useful.

It is worth noting that help with seeking redress is a service that most consultants and brokers provide to customers. They take up queries with suppliers and use their contacts and knowledge to obtain a swift solution.

Sources of advice:  

www.ofgem.gov.uk

www.ombudsman-services.org/energy.html

www.carbontrust.com 


 

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  • A reality check  

    This year’s summer was good, but as usual, was over too quickly – so back to work and a reality check!
        
    However, during my summer travels some of today’s necessities of life were conspicuous by their absence. I hired a car, only to discover that the USB connection I needed to use to charge my phone and link to my favourite music playlists didn’t work. The local radio station’s dubious choices in music didn’t help relive the tedium, but when I got to the hotel my woes were compounded when I discovered that they wanted to charge a ridiculous amount to use their wi-fi – I mean seriously, who in their right mind can justify charging hotel guests for basic wi-fi – unless the hotel is run by Ryanair (who seem to want to charge everyone for everything), which it wasn’t.
        
    So, with no wi-fi in the hotel room, I had some time on my hands, so I started thinking about the connections we expect in today’s connected world and in turn what connections are needed to run today’s workshop. This got me thinking about the problems it would face if these connections were either expensive, were restricted, didn’t work as they should or didn’t exist at all.

    Form over function
    Back in the 1990s I remember well being handed a new portable diagnostic tool which could connect to the internet via the mobile phone networks. Subsequently, it was able to conduct remote and bi-directional diagnostics on a vehicle anywhere in the world, when the vehicle was also connected to the internet – effectively ‘PC anywhere’ technology. However, I also clearly remember complaining to the development engineer within a couple of minutes because the functionality was too slow. He was visibly shocked and was clearly offended by my negative feedback on what was his pride and joy. Then I realised what had made me comment negatively – it was not the impressive technology, but the speed of use and the corresponding ability to run the diagnostics I wanted to conduct. In IT terms, this is referred to as system ‘functionality’ and ‘non-functionality’. Simply, the ‘non-‘functionality’ is the design of the system and the ‘functionality’ is what it can deliver. It might be easier to remember this in layman’s terms as being ‘Form over function’.
        
    When applied to the workshop, this directly applies to a wide range of electronic connections that are needed to support your day-to-day business, and if these connections do not work as needed, how this can quickly and detrimentally impact your business activities.

    Don’t miss the ‘bus’
    The ubiquitous Universal Serial Bus (USB) connection is a good example. A ‘bus’ within a PC are wires that transfer data between components inside the computer, or between the computer and its peripheral devices. We have all come to use this connection for a wide variety of tasks, from using it as an auxiliary power source for many different gadgets, to a vital communications port for various functions such as printers and other data transfer requirements. However, if it does not work correctly, physically or electronically, then simple tasks suddenly become major issues.
        
    This wired technology has moved on and most of us are now connected by wi-fi in the office environment, but increasingly also in the workshop to connect diagnostic tools to the internet. Data transfer speeds depend on the technology used and the latest generation (soon to be 802.11ax) is super-fast, which becomes more important as software updating of vehicles involves the transfer of massive data files. Generally, wi-fi connections work well, but when they suddenly stop working, it is more difficult to diagnose as it is not a physical connection than can be more easily tested. This may happen after a software update and a recent experience showed me how simple a problem can be, but how difficult it was to discover, when my PC was updated and a simple setting was changed. Over three hours of technical support was needed to discover that it was a simple tick-box setting which needed to be re-enabled. These wi-fi problems move into understanding the IT environment of certificates, configurations, permissions, log-in and passwords between the router and the various connected devices, without even starting to consider the wider communications providers that connects your workshop to the wider world.

    Have a cookie
    This leads me onto an increasing communications requirement which has become a fundamental part of our day-to-day lives, from both the personal and business aspects – the internet. If there is ever a perfect example of living in a connected world, this is it. However, if you think about the wide-ranging possibilities that the internet supports, do you ever stop to think about the technology behind what is happening to understand the control mechanisms that are needed for it to be safe and secure? If you visit a website, not only are there likely to be cookies tracking your choices and mapping your activities, but there will be certificates being exchanged to ensure secure communication. This may extend to log-in criteria and passwords, or may be implemented by the service provider whose website you are viewing. This becomes particularly important when you are paying for something online.
        
    In simple terms, all this is a form of coded access, but this works not only to ensure the correct access rights, but more importantly, to stop anyone who does not have the valid access rights from interfering or monitoring what you are doing.

    Control
    What then does all this lead to at the workshop level? In terms of the technology of the equipment, then it is developing to be both more reliable and faster, but the same cannot be said of the beloved OBD connector, which is not only restricted in terms of speed, but will become restricted in terms of access without the correct roles and rights authentication which requires certificates from the vehicle manufacturer. As the manufacturer controls this certificate, then it becomes ‘He who controls the connection, controls the function and ultimately the business’, so the workshop of tomorrow needs to worry most about a connection that they have no control over, but which will control their business.
      
    Time then to sign up with one of the aftermarket associations and join the fight to protect access to the in-vehicle data!

    xenconsultancy.com

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