Friday, 2nd October, 2009

How to get 100% renewable electricity for your home

Wind turbine photo by g-hatWind turbine photo by g-hat

Don’t buy the green claims made by big power companies? Here are some tips to help you choose a 100% renewable electricity supplier. Switching to a green electricity tariff regularly makes those lists of ten things you can do to save the planet. So what’s involved?

What does renewable electricity really mean?

Buying 100% renewable electricity means you get power that’s generated only from sources like wind, solar, waves, tides or even biomass — and not from coal, gas or oil. Of course, the national grid means all the electricity in the UK comes from one pot — the watts my computer is using now could be from any fuel. But different suppliers contribute different types of electricity to the overall fuel mix. So you can choose to give your hard-earned cash to a company that doesn’t use any fossil fuels at all.

Where do I start?

First up, visit a comparison site like Green Electricity Marketplace armed with a recent electricity bill. Several of the major comparison sites, including uSwitch, also have an option to compare green tariffs. Green Electricity Marketplace is great because it explains the pros and cons of the different renewable tariffs, as well as just showing you the prices. It also comes recommended by Friends of the Earth. Once you’ve put in your usage and postcode, the site should give you options to choose from.

Choosing the right tariff

The only way to be sure you’re getting 100% renewable electricity is to opt for a company that doesn’t generate anything else. At this point things get a little technical, because it helps to know a bit about how the energy market in the UK works, but Ludamus readers should be up to the challenge.

The UK government is aiming for 15% of all electricity to come from renewables by 2020. To encourage this, it gives out things called ROCs — Renewables Obligations Certificates to companies that generate renewable electricity. Each year, every power company has to end up with enough ROCs to cover their share of the government’s renewables target. So if you own a huge coal-fired power station, then to meet your target, you have to buy ROCs from a company that owns a wind farm and has some spare. 

Some companies don’t sell all of their spare ROCs — they "retire" them instead. I wanted to buy electricity from a company that doesn’t use any fossil fuels, and which also retires some ROCs. I only found one company that could supply my home office and meet these requirements: Good Energy. I also love the way they encourage you to generate electricity at home, if you can. But another supplier might suit you best.

Whatever you do, just make sure it’s 100% renewable.

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