Posted on April 27, 2018 by staff

Tech boss defends game-changing smart meters


The boss of one of the UK’s fastest-growing energy tech businesses has said repeated criticism of the new smart meter technology being rolled out into millions of homes is ridiculous.

Smart meters show how much energy is being used rather than rely on estimates and the technology is predicted to save £16.7bn through reduced energy usage.

However concerns have been raised about the use of data while some customers have experienced problems with installations, inaccurate bills or loss of the meter’s ‘smart’ features when they switch suppliers.

Now Matthew Hirst, CEO of Lancashire-based Utiligroup, which was bought 12 months ago by American investor Accel-KKR for a reported £100m, has ridden to the defence of smart meters.

“Smart meters are fantastic for consumers,” he told BusinessCloud. “The reason I think they’re great for consumers is you’re in control of how much energy you’re using.  If you’re in control you can measure it and manage it and pay accordingly.

“It seem ridiculous to us that we would estimate the size of a mobile phone bill or we go to the supermarket and say ‘that looks about £60 worth in the trolley so we’ll pay £60 now and tally it up at the end of the year’. It just sounds ridiculous and that’s the situation we’ve got in energy.”

The government wants energy suppliers to install smart meters in every home in England, Wales and Scotland with experts predicting that by the end of 2020, around 53 million smart meters will be fitted in over 30 million premises.

Hirst said the technology will do away with users suddenly being hit with huge hikes in their bills because they’ve been underpaying because of inaccurate estimates.

“One of the biggest complaints with energy customers is you need to ring up because you’ve got a problem with your bill all because  you’re based on estimates,” he explained.

“It’s likely for a 12-month period you’ve been paying too little on your direct debit, it will get tallied up at the end of the year when you get a proper meter reading and your direct debit can double and in some cases triple.

“That’s what annoys consumers and that’s not going to happen anymore because we’re going to know to the half hour how much energy we’re all using. As a country that’s a great thing. When energy usages aren’t estimated we’ll know how many power stations need to be turned on and there will be no waste.”

Utiligroup employ 300 people, including 270 staff at its Chorley headquarters, and Hirst has ambitions to turn it into a unicorn business.

Speaking to BusinessCloud on Wednesday where he was one of 12 recipients of the 12 Hidden Heroes of Lancashire Awards at the St George’s Day Festival, Hirst said:  “We enable energy suppliers to enter the market to grow and to operate and we make them more efficient than the incumbents. We use a SaaS-based model so it’s very attractive  for  new entrants.”

Four  years ago Hirst and his colleague Andrew Green oversaw a management buyout of the Utiligroup subsidiary from its parent company Bglobal.

NorthEdge Capital ploughed in £16.1m and Hirst and Green put everything they had on the line and oversaw phenomenal growth. NorthEdge exited last year when Accel-KKR invested.

The other recipients of the Hidden Heroes of Lancashire Awards  were: William Fletcher, MD, Recycling Lives; Chris Fisher, The Blind Wood Turner; Laila Remtulla MBE, managing director of Laila’s Fine Foods; cricketer Steven Croft; Peter Street, chairman and owner, Cardboard Box Company; Hannah Wild,  founder, Supplement Solutions; Andy Poar, founder and director, Eat My Logo; Jeremy Lefton,  managing director, Roundhouse Momentum Developments; Helen Broughton MBE,  Managing Director, Danbro; Francine Healey, Head of Private Sector Development, OnSide Youth Zones; and Andy Holt, WhatMore and owner Accrington Stanley FC.