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Smart meters – a cornerstone of future energy policy

By Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive, Smart Energy GB

Over the coming weeks, ahead of the Paris Climate conference, the best minds in the energy world will be grappling with some huge issues.

How quickly can we reduce emissions? How best do we supply the energy the world needs for the coming decades?

This comes amid sharp debate in the UK on our own energy mix – in particular the future of nuclear power and renewable energy – alongside regular debate of the experiences consumers are having with their gas and electricity, particular when they’re on low budgets.

With so much focus on the supply of future energy needs, it’s vital that we don’t ignore the demand side too.

The amount of energy we must generate depends, of course, on the amount of energy consumers and businesses want and need.

Energy efficiency and demand management have long been a key part of Labour’s energy policy. One vital component is the smart meter programme – initiated under a Labour government in 2008.

Between now and 2020, smart meters will be offered to every home in Britain, at no extra cost. That means 26 million homes and 4 million microbusinesses – it’s a national programme that will touch us all.

In all around 53 million smart meters will be installed. It’s the biggest infrastructure project of recent times and every political party agrees that the transformation it will bring for consumers is essential.
The meters will bring an end to estimated bills, and allow customers to see how much their gas and electricity is actually costing in pounds and pence.  In future, they will make it easier to shop around for energy and open the door to smarter, greener appliances in our homes – all of which will bring down our bills.

This energy revolution is now gathering pace. In 2016 the roll-out will accelerate further as the main installation phase begins.

Our research shows that once customers have a smart meter fitted, they are much more aware of their energy usage.  Nearly eight in ten people with smart meters take steps to use less energy.  For the first time, energy is becoming something we can engage with and take control of. 

The secure national network that is being built to carry smart meter data will support the development of the digital energy infrastructure and smarter grids that we need to meet our future energy needs.
There are many questions, of course, about what Jeremy Corbyn’s election will mean for the direction of Labour’s energy policy. 

During the leadership campaign, he promised to convene an Energy Commission to produce a “route-map” to a new, cleaner more “democratic” energy system.

Whilst Smart Energy GB plays no part in these big debates about party policy, I do believe that customer engagement needs to be at the centre of any plan.  

Households can now connect with their energy use via their smart meters, and changes in the energy retail market will increasingly be driven by customer choice.

Smart meters are also a vital tool in the battle against fuel poverty.

People with pre-pay meters will be able to recharge their accounts without the inconvenience of having to trudge out to the shops to buy top-ups, and without paying the premium prices associated with current pre-pay meters.

As ever in the energy sector, there’s much to discuss!

We’ll be considering all of these issues at the Smart Energy GB fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton with Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Gary Smith from the GMB, Audrey Gallacher of Citizens Advice and the New Statesman.  I hope we’ll see you there. 

Smart Energy GB fringe event in association with New Statesman

Beyond the price freeze: where next for Labour and energy policy?

Tuesday 29th September 2015, 12.30 – 1.30pm

Tennyson Room, Thistle Hotel, Kings Road, Brighton, BN1 2GS (outside secure zone)

With Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Audrey Gallacher from Citizens Advice, Gary Smith from GMB, Lawrence Slade from Energy UK, Sacha Deshmukh from Smart Energy GB 

SHUTTERSTOCK / MICHAELJAYBERLIN
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Litigation as a last resort: How can arbitration help small businesses?

Could alternative dispute resolution prove a economical and time-saving legal alternative? 

If keeping up with the challenges of the day-to-day running of a small business were not enough, business owners also have to contend with having an effective dispute management strategy in place. Planning for what to do in the event of a falling out with a supplier or how to resolve the issue of late payments may not be top priority compared with the more creative endeavour of formulating and implementing a business strategy but it is one that could critically impact the course of a business and ultimately, its survival.

Late payment remains a problem faced by many small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), with many struggling to stay afloat simply because of their customers’ reluctance to pay on time. Recent estimates published by Crossflow Payments put the level of late payments affecting SMEs at £266bn; amounting to roughly 15% of the SME sector’s average turnover being stuck in the payment chain.  Smaller firms often lack bargaining power in pursuing legitimate debt claims against their larger counterparts and against a backdrop of rising court fees, larger firms are inclined to deny liability, safe in the knowledge that their opponent could not afford to bring proceedings. Furthermore, there is a logjam of cases in the courts delaying the process and adding to costs.

With prohibitive costs making litigation an option that is out of reach for many SMEs, what recourse then do they have, to settle disputes affordably?  Working alongside the court system is the alternative dispute resolution sector (ADR), an umbrella term for a whole range of processes and techniques that help parties resolve disputes without going to court. Typically involving an expert neutral third party deciding on the outcome, it is often less formal, cheaper, and quicker than litigation.

Arbitration is a form of ADR which is final and legally binding.  An arbitral award is enforceable in the same way as a court judgement, and users have the added advantage of being able to tailor the procedure to suit their needs. For instance, parties can choose an expert decision maker to oversee their case. Having a decision maker with experience or expertise in your business sector is advantageous to having a court-appointed judge who needs to be brought up to speed with salient background matters. Parties also have more control over the method, pace and scope of the process. With limited grounds for appeal, parties can avoid a long drawn out procedure in the courts. Another key benefit is its confidentiality, which enables business interests and relationships to be preserved. Moreover, arbitral awards can be enforced transnationally, due to the New York Convention 1958, compared with court judgements which are generally only enforceable where reciprocal enforcement arrangements exist.

There are even schemes tailormade for SMEs. The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators’ (CIArb) Business Arbitration Scheme (BAS) is a fixed fee scheme for disputes between £5,000-£10,000 in value. It offers the certainty of a final and legally binding award in less than 90 days from the appointment of the arbitrator. Businesses can present their own case without legal representation if they so wish and formal procedural steps have deliberately been kept to a minimum. The costs recoverable have also been limited to protect parties against liability for their opponents’ high legal bills. CIArb helps appoint an arbitrator from its specialist panel and even provides a free dispute resolution clause for businesses to draft into their commercial contracts or into their terms and conditions.

Faced with the many challenges running a business brings, schemes like BAS may just provide a lifeline to business owners needing swift and affordable access to justice.