Beth Kayser

How ‘green’ is my provider? Green energy tariffs explained

5 min Read

As the likes of you, me and Dupree strive to live a more planet-friendly existence, green energy tariffs are growing in popularity. To help you make the right choice for yourself or your business, I’ve pulled together a quick summary of what ‘green tariff’ actually means and how to spot the greenwashing that is currently rife in the space. 

First things first, let’s get on the same page about the electricity coming through your sockets: 

Even if you are on the greenest of green tariffs, the electricity you use is exactly the same as the electricity your neighbour uses. It’s not possible to direct renewable energy to some sockets and not others. 

So what’s the point of a ‘green tariff’? 

What a green tariff should mean is that your provider increases the amount of renewable electricity that’s mixed into the grid, reducing our reliance on fossil-fuels.

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. A ‘100% green tariff’ can mean:

  1. A provider matches all energy demand from its customers with renewable generation—as much renewable energy is added into the grid as is used by the customer.
  2. A provider matches some of the energy demand from its customers with renewable generation; the remainder is bought from the wholesale market, which includes coal, gas and nuclear generated power. 
  3. A provider matches no energy demand of customers with renewable generation; all of it is bought from the wholesale, fossil-fuelled market. 

Source: The Switch

How can all of these be ‘100% green’?

Introducing the ‘REGO’ scheme. REGO stands for Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin. It acts as a certificate to verify that a megawatt hour (mWh) of electricity comes from a renewable source. 

REGO was created to bring transparency to customers about what mix of fuel their provider is using. The problem is, a company does not need to actually generate—or pay to generate—new renewable energy to buy a REGO. 

Instead, REGOs can be bought for electricity that’s already available (at a very low price, might I add). As long as a provider buys enough to cover its customers’ electricity use, it can claim it’s 100% green. This means no new renewable energy is added into the mix, plus fossil fueled electricity is still being funded. 

The grid will never get green enough, fast enough, if we continue this way. 

So what should I look for in an energy provider?

The 'greenest' option is to look for a company that is funding new renewable power. A quick way to do this is to check whether they have been awarded the Gold Standard Green Tariff by Uswitch. Only companies that buy 100% of electricity from renewable generators, 10% of green gas and ‘provide a meaningful contribution towards increasing and/or promoting renewable energy’ are awarded this standard.

Of course, 'green' isn't always the only factor when it comes to choosing an energy supplier. If price disqualifies Gold Standard tariffs for you, don't be dismayed. Choosing a provider that buys REGOs is still a good choice for the planet, since it demonstrates a demand for green energy.

How much will switching to a green energy provider reduce my carbon footprint by?

Bit of a tricky question, this one. Quantifying the additional renewable energy access that your account is responsible for isn't straightforward. 

Let’s say your provider buys a new wind turbine with the money it’s raised from its customers (including you). First up, there’s the embodied carbon involved in the production of the wind turbine. The amount fluctuates depending on the size of the turbine, the manufacturer, etc. According to one analysis, a 3.4MW wind turbine is offset in 64 days (which we’re actually quite impressed by!).

Once those 64 days worth of carbon are offset, we’d then need to calculate your portion of the carbon saving in relation to how much you contributed to that wind turbine and how much energy you’ve used. If your brain is starting to hurt a bit, mine too…

The short answer is that the CO2e savings per person for this switch are small, but collectively they’ll make a massive difference. So switching to a renewable energy provider is absolutely, unequivocally a good thing.

Additional reading: 

  • Scottish Power and Good Energy have teamed up to release a manifesto that urges Ofgem and the government to remove loopholes which allow for greenwashing in the UK energy space. 
  • Uswitch’s green accreditation scheme page deep dives into how the scheme works and what Gold, Silver and Bronze awarded companies must have achieved.
  • Swapping to a renewable energy provider is important, but equally as important (if not more) is to reduce the amount of energy you use in the first place. Our Big Green Guide to Living Sustainably at Home shares some tips and tricks to reduce energy consumption, as does our app, which you can download for free here

Preventing climate catastrophe will require something from everyone—if only you switch your energy supplier, not loads is going to change. If you, plus your community, plus your employer, plus your friends’ employers all make the switch, then we’re getting somewhere.  

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