Friday, 12 February 2016

We love green energy

The easiest thing you can do for climate change? Switch energy supplier.

This Saturday I will be in the market square outside the Guildhall - wearing my thickest soled boots - encouraging you to switch to a green electricity supplier. We are doing this with other volunteers from the Cambridge Climate Alliance. I have been buying green electricity pretty much since I got involved with Transition Cambridge. It seemed to me to be the right thing to do. Let me explain.

We as consumers have power. When we exercise our choices not to buy the cheapest thing but the best thing, we expand the market and make those best things more available. Free range eggs, fair trade bananas, organic food in general – these are more and more available because we choose to buy them even when they aren’t the cheapest.

Green energy is better than fossil fuels. My electricity supplier uses mainly wind power and solar, but also energy from waste and water power. Green energy is extremely low in carbon emissions – even compared with fossil power stations fitted with carbon capture and storage which is supposed to be low carbon (see table). Since a quarter of our energy related carbon emissions come from generatlng electricity, switching to 100% green electricity would make a huge difference.

TechnologyCarbon emissions gCO2/kWh
Current average electricity supply
Coal with CCS
(integrated gasifier combined cycle)
Gas with CCS
(combined cycle)
Solar PV panels
(polycrystalline Si)
Onshore wind
Offshore wind
Data from Current and Future Lifecycle emissions of key 'low carbon' technologies and alternatives (for CCC) except current average supply from DEFRA carbon factors

Green energy is better in other respects too. It means investment and jobs in the UK. It doesn’t rely on complicated supply lines through unstable political regimes. Most green electricity is also clean electricity too - there are no pollutants emitted from working solar panels or wind turbines. Wind has a bad press for being dangerous to birds and bats but even the RSPB is now building its own wind turbine (see Why is the RSPB erecting a wind turbine?).

Like a lot of other ‘best’ things, 100% green electricity costs a little bit more. A few days ago I did a cost comparison of the best Big Six deal I could find with the best green supplier. For a medium electricity using household the extra cost is just 20p/day – approximately the cost of one fair trade organic banana from Tesco.

Of course if you haven’t compared tariffs recently you probably aren’t on the best tariff anyway – switching to green electricity may not cost you any more than you are paying already.

When I switched to green energy it was arguably unnecessary because the government required electricity companies to supply an increasing proportion of power from renewables. It worked pretty well – in 2014 the actual proportion was 19%, compared to less than 4% a decade before. However, the government is closing down that scheme and the new policy, contracts for difference is purely budget driven with no targets. So if I hadn’t already switched I would certainly switch now, because we need to tell the electricity supply companies that we aren’t only interested in price – we want our electricity to be clean and safe for the planet too. After all, climate change is expensive - cleaning up after storms and floods and coping with droughts costs a lot of money.

We often hear that renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels anyway – so why does it cost more at all? The simplest answer is that although renewables can be cheaper in the long term they have a high investment cost up front – and investors don’t like to wait twenty years for payback time. So the costs are higher in the short term to pay for that investment. Also we have a lot of infrastructure already invested in fossil fuels and it is cheaper to keep that going than pay for new clean infrastructure.

Living a low carbon lifestyle can be difficult because often the easy choices are not the low carbon choices. When it’s raining it’s easier to get in the car than on the bike. It’s easier to buy a ready made meal of unknown origins than to make something from scratch. But switching to a green energy supplier is about the easiest thing you can do. You just choose one, tell them what you want, and wait for it happen.

There are three main green energy suppliers:

All are small as yet but they are growing fast. Ovo Energy tripled in size in one year and now has 500,000 customers. So you won’t be on your own. If you love green energy - why not switch?

See also our information sheet ‘We Love Green Energy’ which I will be handing out on Saturday.

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