Why worry about saving energy on a green tariff?

Photo by Tim Foster

As you’d expect from someone frantic enough to write a blog about the state of the climate and the mass extinction of life on earth, we’re signed up to a 100% green electricity tariff.

So we used to think that, as long as we could afford the bills, it didn’t actually matter how much energy we used. At least, that was my wife’s response when I moaned about her overfilling the kettle, or the kids’ comeback when I grumbled about them sitting inside on a sunny day with the curtains drawn and the lights on.

But depressingly – and more than a little misleadingly – even if you’re on a renewable tariff, every unit of electricity you use results in fossil fuels being burned at much the same rate.

That’s because there’s only so much renewable energy to go round – it’s a zero sum game. And because it’s all pumped into the grid where it becomes indistinguishable from nuclear, gas or coal power, even the most fossil-fuel-filthy of tariffs is a mix of green and brown.

So when I, all smug with my green tariff, turn on an electric heater, my supplier – committed to matching every unit I use with the purchase of a certified renewable unit – has to find more green electricity elsewhere. And in a finite field, that means taking it from the standard tariff of someone else. Which of course means their supply has to then be topped up with… yup, a non-renewable supply.

In other words, even on the greenest of green tariffs, there’s still a direct link: I turn on any electrical appliance, and someone somewhere turns up a gas-fired power station.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t all be on a green tariff; we need to prove the demand that will drive investment, and sometimes it’s even the cheaper option. But if you really want to make a difference with your electricity use then, until the world’s running a surplus of 100% truly renewable energy, it’s worth making sure you’re signed up to a supplier that does more than just trade renewables certificates to then claim it’s a ‘green’ tariff.

Meanwhile, and even more importantly, the first step is always to REDUCE DEMAND. Which, despite what my family might say, is why it’s not just about me being tight if I’m seen patrolling between the kettle and the light switch.

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