Hedgewizard raised an interesting point in response to this month's challenge.
The electricity companies' implication is that if you're on a green tarriff, they input as much extra renewable energy into the grid as you use (making your use effectively "green"). But this isn't the case. In reality, the companies generate as much power as they can sell to the grid at any given time, period. So your decision to go on a "green" tarriff makes no difference to the power generated - it's still 4.2% renewable, and nothing has changed unless the supplier is bringing new renewable plant onstream with your money. And there's the key; most of the companies offering "green" tarriffs aren't doing that. They inherited renewable plant when the industry was privatised, but they're just maintaining it.
... and he quoted some figures from an article in the June 2005 issue of The Ecologist. I've found the whole article online. I recommend you read it, it's very interesting.
We currently produce 34 per cent of our power from coal, 22 per cent from nuclear, 37 per cent from gas, yet only 3 per cent from renewables. This balance has to be dramatically shifted. The only way to do this is to build more renewable energy sources so that when old coal and nuclear power stations get decommissioned over the coming years there is enough renewable electricity being generated to replace them.
So if you want to change your electricity supplier because you're concerned about climate change, it's important to choose a supplier which invests in new renewable energy projects.
Fortunately there is a website to help you do just that. It is http://www.whichgreen.org/. I have included the latest figures from them as the image in the top left of this article. As you can see, Ecotricity comes top of the league by a long way.
The Ecologist article goes on the examine all the green energy suppliers in the table, and finds that most of them are guilty of greenwashing (claiming to be green without really doing very much about it). For example, nPower spent more on new renewable energy than Ecotricity, but then again their customer base is vastly bigger so the spend per customer was much less. Also nPower is part of the group which owns Thames Water, which came top of the Environment Agency’s list of most polluting companies in the UK last year.
Personally, I want my money going to a company completely committed to building renewable energy, not one which is just a small, clean part of a much larger, dirtier whole.
I'm with nPower, but after reading this I'm seriously thinking of switching to Ecotricity. And that seems to be the "take home" message of the article. It's not enough just to switch to any old green energy supplier. If you want to make an impact on climate change, you need to switch to a supplier that is serious about building new renewable projects, and that seems to mean Ecotricity. Sorry to the six Bean-Sprouts readers who already voted in the poll to say they switched this month, I hope you picked the right one! If not, I believe you have a "cooling off" period when you are allowed to change your mind.
Finally, I found some interesting advice from the National Energy Foundation:
If you are really concerned about this, then there are two other things that you could do:
Install some electricity generating capacity on your own home, for example through adding a photovoltaic (PV) panel; or
Buy shares in a locally based renewable energy scheme, such as the community wind projects at Baywind or Westmill Farm.
You should also remember that even if you are buying green electricity, it is important not to waste power by being as energy efficient as possible - a kilowatt not used is the cleanest kilowatt of all!