Green electricity – Part 2


Small steps…

  • Wherever possible, REDUCE ENERGY USE.
  • Get your electricity from a supplier offering ‘100% renewable’ power.
  • Better still, distinguish between the truly green suppliers and the ‘greenwashed’: sign up to one that directly invests in renewable generation.

There’s green and there’s GREEN.
(Photo by Annabelle Tipper)

For years, I’ve cheerfully subscribed to 100% green tariffs on the assumption that I’m cutting my family’s carbon footprint and supporting the growth of renewables. I’ve recommended it to one and all as an easy yet significant step to take.

Which makes it more than slightly depressing to learn that, in truth, the energy we’ve been paying for might well have come from burning fossil fuels, with far less benefit than I’d thought.

Simply having renewables in the portfolio is not enough to demonstrate that a tariff is providing support for renewables.

Ofgem Default Tariff Cap: Policy Consultation Appendix 13, May 2018

The truth is, many ‘100% renewable suppliers’ don’t actually buy any renewable electricity at all. Here’s how it works:

With every unit of green power generated, a certificate called a REGO (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin) is created, to be gathered up by Ofgem at the end of each year.

But since REGOs, once born, are not linked to the electricity that created them, they can be sold separately; a supplier can buy in ‘dirty’ energy, purchase a bunch of REGOs, and then just sell it on, greenwashed, as ‘renewable’.

And since the big six energy suppliers stopped doing green tariffs a few years ago, demand for REGOs is so poor that the price is depressingly low: buying enough REGOs to cover an average customer’s annual electricity usage could cost a so-called ‘renewable’ supplier as little as 47p.

Many energy companies are themselves calling for this REGO loophole to be closed, if only to restore consumer confidence. But until the regulator sorts this out and makes it easier to distinguish between the truly green and the merely greened-up supplier, what can the well-intentioned consumer do?

Firstly, having reduced energy use as far as possible, don’t be put off signing up for a green tariff. It sends a clear signal to the industry and to policy-makers that the demand is there and that these problems have to be addressed. Secondly, do some research; question your ‘green’ supplier and, if you’re not satisfied, find one that genuinely supports the growth of renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions.

Ofgem themselves have given a steer where to look. When introducing the recent price cap, they granted a temporary exemption to just three companies, on the basis that ‘by consumers being on the tariff, support is given to renewables to an extent that is materially greater than that which is brought about as a result of subsidies, obligations or other mandatory mechanisms.

Those three companies are Ecotricity, Good Energy and Green Energy UK. Each specialises in a particular area:

  • Ecotricity directly supports the building of renewables
  • Good Energy buys directly from renewable generators, and
  • Green Energy UK offer 100% biogas.

Personally, it’s a no-brainer: Ecotricity not only directly invest in the necessary building of renewables and have a green core to everything they do, from supporting bees to offering ethical investments, but they also have a reduced rate for owners of electric vehicles. And all for just £50 per year more than I’m paying my current ‘green’ provider.

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