Greener electricity

What is greener electricity?

Since the government opened up the domestic energy market to competition in 1998, allowing users to choose which company to buy electricity from, it has been possible to switch over to green electricity. Green electricity is generated from renewable sources such as wind, wave and solar power, which do not generate pollution and are infinitely renewable. Government statistics show we could be meeting almost 40% of the country’s electricity needs from green sources by the year 2025 and legislation now requires all suppliers to buy some green energy (currently 3%). By 2010 they will be required to buy 10% of their electricity from renewable sources.

All electricity suppliers are now required to publish information on the mix of fuels used to produce the electricity they supply, in percentage terms for coal, natural gas, nuclear, and renewable. They must also provide other environmental information related to CO2 emissions and levels of radioactive waste generated. This information on fuel mix can be found on the Sust-it website.

Renewable energy includes all non-fossil and non-nuclear sources: for example, wind, hydro-electric, wave and tidal power, solar, geothermal, biomass, biogas and landfill gas. Energy from waste is also a source of renewable energy but some people object to this because of pollution from incompletely burned wastes. Not all renewable sources are equally good for producing electricity; some produce heat. Friends of the Earth, the  Renewable Energy Association, the Energy Saving Trust, and the National Energy Foundation among others can provide more information on renewable energy. There are also information sheets available from the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Changing to a green electricity company

Changing to a green electricity company from your existing provider involves no new meter, wiring or even a visit from an electrician, and you receive exactly the same service through the National Grid as before. Because all energy companies feed the electricity they generate into the National Grid it is impossible to say how a particular unit of electricity was generated. What the green energy companies who supply 100% renewable energy guarantee is that they buy as much electricity from renewable sources as they supply to their customers, generally on a yearly basis.

Green tariffs often involve the payment of an additional premium, though some companies have made their green tariffs the same as their other tariffs. Additional premiums may be justified because renewable energy sources are new and more expensive and it can be argued that the higher charges more accurately reflect the environmental as well as financial costs of generating electricity. You may feel it is worth paying a bit extra to know that the energy you are buying is from green sources.

Green electricity schemes can be one of two types, or a combination scheme.

  • Some companies put the money from their green tariff customers into green energy funds which go towards renewable energy projects.
  • Other companies guarantee to buy energy only from renewable sources, with some building and operating their own renewable energy generation schemes, mainly wind farms.

Some companies offer combination schemes where they guarantee to buy some electricity (over and above their non-fossil fuel obligation to buy 3%) from renewable sources and also put money into green energy funds. For some companies their green energy tariff is only one of many and they may also buy a lot of energy from other sources, including nuclear power, or be part of a larger company with links to nuclear power.

Some green tariffs come with other benefits, such as free energy efficiency advice or free low energy lightbulbs. Some companies promote microgeneration by operating schemes whereby they will buy surplus electricity generated by their customers.

The electricity companies supply electricity under many different tariffs and neither Green Choices nor Friends of the Earth has the resources to maintain an up-to-date list. However, Sust-it provides a free 100% impartial energy search engine to compare green tariffs.


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