How can you make sure your energy is good?
Switching from a petrol and diesel car to an electric vehicle reduces air pollution and is better for your health and those around you...
...but the power you use to run your EV and home can still impact the environment if it comes from fossil fuels.
To meet demand, even some of the greener energy suppliers can include non-renewable sources in their fuel mix depending on what time of day you charge up. In this guide, we look at where energy comes from, what “renewable” really means and where to go to make sure your energy is as green as possible.
This month (August), the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) published a report detailing the impact that increased temperatures from carbon emissions caused by human activity has had and could yet have on our planet.
Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) is one of the biggest ways in which carbon emissions are released into our atmosphere and is therefore one of the major contributory factors to climate change and the extreme weather events we’re increasingly seeing around the world caused by global warming.
However, although most cars on the road today are still powered by fossil fuels, the number of people making the switch to EVs is growing rapidly which is good news for us, our environment and our future.
What isn’t such good news though, is the fact that energy used to power electric vehicles can still come from burning fossil fuels. So it’s important to ensure that in switching to an EV, you also use an energy provider whose power comes from sustainable and renewable sources. This not only benefits the environment, it can benefit you financially too.
The electricity used to power our homes, electric vehicles (EVs), e-bikes, today comes from a variety of different sources such as coal, gas, wind, solar, water and nuclear, and this is generated both within the UK and imported from abroad.
For many years, most of our domestic electricity came from burning fossil fuels. In fact, the first time that Britain went for a full day without burning coal to generate electricity since the 1880s was only just over four years ago on 21st April 2017.
Since then, the reliance on fossil fuels has continued to decrease in the UK and in 2020, according to the National Grid, only 1.6% of the electricity generated for the UK came from coal making 2020 our greenest year on record.
While the National Grid Electricity System Operator is responsible for ensuring the supply of electricity and gas meets the UK’s demand, it doesn't actually generate energy itself nor supply it directly to people. It also isn’t responsible for the hundreds of different tariffs available on the market, so it could be that your chosen provider and tariff uses more fossil fuels than some others.
To get to net zero, we have to reduce our carbon emissions which means our energy needs to be green; so it needs to come from both clean and renewable sources.
Energy that comes from burning fossil fuels - such as coal, oil and gas - is non-renewable because it’s from a finite source that cannot be replenished. In addition, the carbon emissions that are created when these fossil fuels are burned are bad for us and the environment. Nuclear power is also non-renewable, but because it doesn’t cause any harmful emissions when harnessed, it’s generally classed as a “clean” source of energy.
“Renewable” energy means energy that is generated from naturally occurring sources that replenish themselves - such as the sun, wind and water - so is better for the environment and for us because it’s infinitely available, sustainable and has no emissions. One of the exceptions to this is biomass - energy produced from burning organic matter such as plants, wood and waste. Although carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by plant and wood biomass matter while it’s grown, biomass energy creates carbon emissions when burned.
It’s worth noting that while it is possible to find a supplier that provides electricity solely from clean and renewable sources, we’re not quite at this stage in the UK with green gas (yet). However, energy provider Good Energy, already offers 10% carbon neutral gas or “biogas” to its customers and is committed to a 100% renewable energy future.
How can I make sure my energy tariff really is green?
While lots of providers now offer green tariffs which are - according to Uswitch - almost always cheaper than a standard variable tariff, the electricity provided might not only come from clean and renewable sources.
Many providers still include a small percentage of fossil fuels as part of their green tariff fuel mix, which is often “balanced” through carbon offsetting activities. In addition, energy providers can buy a green certificate, known as a REGO (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin) for every 1000 units of renewable electricity they purchase from their energy generator. However, it is possible for providers to purchase the REGO certificate without having to prove the energy they've bought is renewable!
Our partner, Good Energy, directly owns and operates two windfarms and six solar parks and is the only green energy provider in the UK that has been awarded the Uswitch Green Tariff Gold Standard accreditation for all of its tariffs. It also has options for business customers too. It only offers renewable electricity energy tariffs to its customers which it either generates itself or buys directly from energy generators, as detailed in this Which? article.
While the energy providers are still a little way off being able to offer their customers 100% renewable gas, it is possible to find a provider that offers 100% renewable electricity. The important thing to remember here is to look at the fuel mix of the tariff you're on or thinking about switching to carefully.