The government has awarded £8.8 million of funding to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) reduce their energy consumption through use of smart meters.

As part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, the competition winners will use the funding to develop and evaluate technologies that will help businesses across a range of sectors – including hospitality, retail and education – tackle their energy use.

It is estimated that the use of smart technologies, like smart meters, could help the UK save up to £40 billion on energy costs over decades to come.

Over 11 million smart meters are in operation in homes and small businesses across the country, helping consumers take control of their energy use and reducing bills. Despite this, there is currently a lack of products specifically aimed at small and medium-sized businesses to help them to use their smart meters to take control of their energy consumption.

The UK-based competition winners, ranging from small energy management companies to tech firms Samsung and Toshiba, have designed smart information systems that give businesses real-time, tailored data on their energy use, helping them save money by being more efficient.

The benefits range from highlighting spikes in energy use in real-time and recommending ways to cut use in the long-term, to identifying faulty equipment or inefficient ways of working.

Energy minister Claire Perry said: “The scale of the ambition displayed by the winning projects demonstrates that the UK is ready to lead the world when it comes to helping smaller businesses understand their energy use through smart systems.

“Energy costs for businesses can be one of the hardest things to understand and control, but these projects can change that, as well as help educate the next generation in our schools on the importance of controlling our energy consumption.

“Smart meters are an opportunity for us to rewrite the rules on how we engage with the energy market and these winners will ensure that the benefits can be felt by businesses and schools as well as homes.”

The Institute for Small Business and Enterprises’ (ISBE) co-chair of its social and sustainable enterprise special interest group, Professor Audley Genus said it welcomed the government’s scheme to help SMEs reduce energy costs.

However it added that “a number of interesting matters” arose in connection with the proposed measures, including possible over-reliance on smart meters.

“As Horizon 2020-funded research conducted by ISBE social and sustainable enterprise special interest group members has observed, an emphasis on metering technology can obscure the work which needs to be done fundamentally to change energy use practices.

“Secondly, studies by ISBE members and others confirm that the ‘control’ of consumption by SMEs is likely to more effectively and enduringly realised when energy users targeted by policy initiatives play a more proactive role, typically acting collaboratively and not merely as lone agents.”

He added: “We will have to see to what extent the new proposals are able to exploit these insights and look forward to contributing evidence to inform future policy development in this area.”