History of Electricity Meters

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Business electricity and gas bills are painful in the best of times. How do energy companies know how much business energy your business is using? That is where gas and electricity meters come in.

These are devices that tell energy companies about every single kilowatt-hour of business electricity or gas that you have used.

Amazingly, most of the technology was invented in the 19th century during the great Nikola Tesla (not the car, the original scientist vs. Thomas Edison (not the company, but the inventor) energy wars that were raging in the United States.

The main battle was around AC vs DC voltage, but one of the skirmishes was around how to bill people and businesses and how to collect their money for gas or electricity usage.

The opening shot in the battle for energy meter supremacy was fired by Oliver B. Shallenberger in 1888.

After a career in the Navy, he rose to become a chief electrician for Westinghouse- the emerging electricity-generating powerhouse battling Thomas Edison.

Oliver received the first patent for a watt-hour meter. The meter measured how much AC flowed through. This innovation made it possible for electricity utilities to start charging for their services. Nikola Tesla sold his invention of Alternating Current (AC) to Westinghouse and they, in turn, tried to get every house and business in America to use the new system.

Thomas Edison would have none of that, as he was leading the American standard charge with his direct-current innovations (DC).  The challenge was that DC was not great for home use.

The Electric Metering Challenge

That is when the problems of metering hit the Thomas Edison business mode. Thomas Edison could not measure the amount of electricity that his customers were using.

His first utility bills were per lamp. Imagine you are running your business, and a utility engineer shows up and starts counting the number of lamps you have.

What if you just have one giant lamp? Thomas Edison decided to solve the problem with having tubs filled with zinc-sulfate electrolytes that measured how much electricity flowed through the tubs. So the utility engineers ended up measuring how much zinc disappeared from the tub to understand how much business electricity was being used.

Oliver Shallenberger came up with an ingenious idea for energy meters when his light bulb broke. He noticed that as energy was passing through the lamp, the little metals started turning. The proverbial light bulb moment came.

He invented an AC-based electricity meter that used electricity-generated magnetic forces to measure the amount of energy businesses or households were using.

The meter war was won. Westinghouse manufactured hundreds of thousands of these meters. The ability to measure electricity use and charge for it is what partially won the AC vs. DC war (and the ability to transform electricity from DC to AC). AC technology became the standard for electricity transport, and delivery.

The beauty of the electricity meter innovation is that it did not require much power to run. It used magnetic fields to figure out how much electricity was used and therefore how much should be charged to the business electricity user. Hundreds of thousands of these meters were built in the coming decades, allowing A.C. power to take off as an everyday consumer technology. Oliver Shallenberger’s basic design remains in use today.

Because these meters operated on electrical current’s induced magnetic field, they consumed virtually no power. Consumers could feel more confident that they were only being charged for the power they used, and could more accurately monitor their consumption.

Modern Day MPAN Electricity Meters

Amazingly, Shallenberger’s design remains in use today.  Modern-day electricity meters are called MPAN meters- Meter Point Administration Number meters.

That is what you see on your bill. Today, they are slightly more sophisticated and have lots of numbers attached to them.  For example, MPANs have a long number at the top and a number at the bottom to uniquely identify your business premises.

MPANs have what is called a Supply Number or S-Number. This is a 21-digit number that uniquely identifies your electricity supply address (or point as it is called in the energy trade). Each business premise and domestic household has an MPAN.

For business and domestic gas consumption, slightly different meters are used. They are called MPRNs or the Meter Point Reference Number. MPANs and MPRNs were introduced in 1998 as part of the government's drive to have more competition in the supply of gas and electricity.

The MPAN system can be a bit confusing. MPANs can have several meters attached to it or even none. Imagine a housing block or a multi-tenanted business office.

But how do gas and electricity companies tell different customers apart? After all, business gas and electricity users are slightly different from household gas and electricity users?

The first two digits on the MPAN (see above ‘00’) identify the type of gas and electricity user that is associated with the MPAN.

The system has 8 types of MPAN users:

00 – Half-hourly supply

This is a business meter. It measures electricity use every half hour and enables business electricity suppliers to accurately bill very large business electricity users, such as a factory.

01 – Domestic unrestricted

This is a household meter type. It is very common in the UK

02 – Domestic Economy meter of two or more rates

Many domestic electricity users benefit from this meter type. Normally evening, night and weekend usage is charged at different and lower rates. Any meter that can provide a discount is a great way to save money.

03 – Non-domestic unrestricted

This is one of the most common business electricity meters. You pay for what you use. There is no way to differentiate between day and night time or weekend usage. You are charged standard day unit rates for all your usage

04 – Non-domestic Economy 7 meters

These are great business electricity meters. They allow businesses to save on evening use. Unlike 03 meters, businesses can benefit from several business electricity prices- day unit rate and night unit rates. Night unit rates tend to be significantly cheaper.

05 Non-domestic, with maximum demand (MD) recording capability and with load factor (LF) of less than or equal to 20%.

06 Non-domestic, with MD recording capability and with LF less than or equal to 30% and greater than 20%

07 Non-domestic, with MD recording capability and with LF less than or equal to 40% and greater than 30%

08 Non-domestic, with MD recording capability and with LF greater than 40% (also all non-half-hourly export MSIDs)

Distribution Network Operators

The other important number on the MPRN is the distributor ID (‘13’ on the picture above). The UK has 14 different energy markets split by different regions. These are called Distribution Network Operators (DNOs). There are a total of 14 different distribution networks.

DNOs are the companies that deliver your electricity. While you may be supplied by British Gas, EDF, Opus Energy, Gazprom, EON, Npower, the final delivery mile is managed by the DNO.

Sometimes businesses need to find out who is supplying energy to their business premises. Often, when a change of tenancy happens, a business may need to switch energy suppliers to avoid deemed or out-of-contract rates.

Below is the list of UK DNOs and how to contact them.

10  Eastern EnglandUK Power Networks0800 029 4285
11East Midlands Western Power Distribution0800 096 3080
12  LondonUK Power Networks0800 029 4285
13Merseyside and Northern Wales SP Energy Networks0330 10 10 444
14West Midlands Western Power Distribution0800 096 3080
15North Eastern England Northern Powergrid0800 011 3332
16  North Western EnglandElectricity North West0800 048 1820
17  Northern ScotlandScottish & Southern Electricity Networks0800 048 3516
18Southern Scotland SP Energy Networks0330 10 10 444
19  South Eastern EnglandUK Power Networks0800 029 4285
19South Eastern England UK Power Networks0800 029 4285
21Southern Wales Western Power Distribution0800 096 3080
22South Western England Western Power Distribution0800 096 3080
23Yorkshire Northern Powergrid0800 011 3332

Registering your business MPAN with ECOES

As of 2020, you may have access to all your MPAN data through the industry body called ECOES. As a business customer, you may register with ECOES- https://www.ecoes2.co.uk/. This central data will enable you to have 24/7 access to your MPAN information.

This is particularly handy when you want to switch energy providers.

More to explore

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Does Your Business Need a Smart Meter? Ever since standard gas and electricity meters were first installed, suppliers have had a knowledge