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Ethical Energy – Electricity Suppliers

There can’t be many people left who aren’t aware of the devastating effect that excessive carbon dioxide emissions are having on our environment. The prospect of climate change should be a real concern for all of us. Stories of melting ice caps may seem remote today, but they will not be so irrelevant when the resultant rise in sea levels leaves the waves lapping around our ankles.

The future of energy is green…

The biggest sources of carbon dioxide emissions are power stations, which account for around one third of the total produced. Coal power stations are the least efficient, and although the increased popularity of natural gas burning has reduced our potential CO2 emissions slightly, the benefits are offset by an increase in energy usage overall. Our rising electricity consumption requires more and more power to be generated, and although peoples’ energy efficiency can help reduce this, the only real alternative is to source electricity from renewable resources.

Confusing market

The domestic energy market is confusing. In the past customers knew that one gas company supplied their gas and nothing else, and another did the same with their electricity. In recent years all customers have been able to change their gas or electricity supplier and over millions have swapped in search of a better deal. Until recently, homeowners had a dazzling array of tariffs and service providers, before even attempting to take the environment into account. Most of the main energy companies were providing some kind of green tariff for electricity. However, in January 2014, the UK’s energy regulator Ofgem, bought into force reforms which require suppliers to simplify their energy tariffs, with a cap on the number of tariffs that each company can offer. Unfortunately this has resulted in the so called ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers in the UK, withdrawing their green tariffs to new customers. The companies which have dropped the tariffs say there were low levels of interest from customers, but claim to offer ‘low-carbon’ alternatives. This is a disappointing result in terms of climate change and the UK’s renewable energy targets, as the market will be limited to the smaller, independent suppliers. A Which? survey in early 2014, found that energy tariffs are still too confusing, despite the reforms brought in at the start of the year.


Why switch to renewable electricity?

When we read the newspapers and watch the news on TV every day, and see the environmental disasters and freak weather conditions that are attributed to global warming, we can see for ourselves the effects of the by-products of traditional energy generation.

Electricity production is the single biggest contributor to the emissions that cause climate change. The prime gas responsible for global warming or the ‘greenhouse effect’ is carbon dioxide or CO2. The burning of oil, coal and gas (otherwise known as fossil fuels) in traditional power stations produces a considerable amount of carbon dioxide. The UK, which has 1 per cent of the world’s population, emits 2.3 per cent of the world’s total emissions of CO2. Not only do fossil fuels contribute to the degradation of the environment, they are also finite in nature and increasingly have to be imported into the UK, sometimes from politically unstable areas of the world. It is only a matter of time before the planet’s supply of these fuels runs out.

One alternative to traditional fuel burning stations is nuclear power. This, however, is far from being a solution to global pollution. Although British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) has been pushing nuclear power as the non-polluting solution to climate change, this is certainly not the case. During its lifetime (around 30-40 years) a nuclear reactor can produce radioactive waste that has a ‘lifespan’ of thousands of years. This waste needs to be disposed of safely, as it is highly dangerous. Although no CO2 is produced there are other by-products to the nuclear process that could potentially do serious harm to the environment.

In contrast to these more traditional forms of energy supply is renewable or ‘green’ energy. Not only does green energy not directly result in any by-products that may be harmful to our environment, it also comes from renewable and everlasting sources such as wind and water or the sun. In fact, most forms of renewable energy produce very little or no waste, and therefore have a minimal impact on the world around us. When you switch to a renewable energy supply, you are also supporting the future of the renewable energy industry. By showing the government and mainstream energy suppliers that you wholeheartedly support renewable energy, you can help convince them to increase the support they offer to the industry as a whole.


How do you switch?

The great thing about switching to a green energy tariff is that it’s incredibly easy to do. There is no need to get the electricians in, or have anything changed physically with your electricity supply. Whilst there is no change in the actual electricity coming down the wires into your home when you subscribe to an energy-based tariff, a proportion of what you pay will be matched by the equivalent amount of energy being fed into the national grid from renewable sources. 100% renewable energy tariffs promise over the course of the year to match 100 per cent of the units of electricity you buy from them with an equal amount from renewable sources.

It is extremely easy to switch to a green energy tariff. All you need to do is register your interest with a supplier and they can sign you up over the phone or you can fill in a form online. You can arrange to pay by direct debit, which will also save you money. Throughout the remainder of this section of the site you will find information about the most widely available tariffs and how they operate, plus The Good Shopping Guide’s ethical ratings for each company.

Choosing the best supplier

With the introduction of the Renewables Obligation in England and Scotland in 2002 (2005 in Northern Ireland), energy suppliers have been required to ensure that over the years an increasing proportion of all the electricity they provide comes from renewable energy sources. The minimum target was set at 3% when the obligation was introduced, but the target has increased every year and is 20.6% for 2013-14

For each unit of renewable energy bought they receive a certificate. If companies fail to match the required percentage they may buy certificates from those companies that have exceeded their minimum. In order to reach their minimum requirement, large energy suppliers were offering a green tariff to customers. In many cases this did not exceed or match the minimum percentage of renewable energy that the supplier is required to provide, as demand for traditional tariffs is still considerably greater. These suppliers then have to buy in certificates from smaller niche companies which only offer a green tariff, or whose green tariff makes up more than the required minimum percentage of their total energy supply.

If, however, the niche company sells all its certificates above the percentage it retains to meet its own government targets, it results in a net status quo for the energy market. No extra demand for renewable energy supply is generated, as total demand for renewable energy is matched across the board. Trading of certificates at this level will mean that the net average of renewable energy supply will remain stable nationwide. However, if those suppliers that produce more than the minimum requirement set aside a further percentage of their certificates, above and beyond the required minimum (i.e. they “retire” their certificates), and refuse to sell them on, additional demand for renewable energy sources is generated.

When trying to evaluate which tariff is ‘better’, it’s best to look at what green tariffs are trying to achieve. Ultimately the aim is to increase the amount of renewable energy supply there is in the country. By increasing the influence of renewable energy sources, it is possible to lessen the influence of the environmentally degrading sources, fossil fuels and nuclear power.


Ethical Electricity Companies We Recommend

Good Energy

Good Energy gets all its electricity from renewable sources like sunshine, wind and water. That means no carbon, no nuclear and no fossil fuels. For every unit of electricity used by a Good Energy customer, the company supplies the national grid with a unit of electricity generated from 100% renewable power sources.

Good Energy believes the UK can be powered purely by renewables. As well as supporting more than 800 independent generators across Britain, it also develops its own renewable projects. Good Energy owns and operates two wind farms and four solar farm sites and more solar farms are in the pipeline.

Good Energy’s customer service has consistently been voted first or second in the Which? energy company customer satisfaction survey in the last four years.

It is a founder member of the Social Stock Exchange and has been listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange since July 2012. ‍

Green Energy UK

A supplier of 100% green electricity to homes and businesses all over the UK, Green Energy UK takes cleaner, greener electricity and puts it into the National Grid. It believes it is big enough to trust but small enough to care. Green Energy UK offers three tariffs – one of which is 100% renewable. Through its share scheme Green Energy UK gives its first 100,000 customers the option to receive fully paid shares. Green Energy UK buys from sources like tomato farmers, capturing gas from pig waste, waste vegetable oil and even skip waste, as well as the more well-known renewable sources such as solar, free-falling water and wind. Only using OFGEM approved green and renewable suppliers, they work with small scale UK generators, helping them get their energy to market.


Ecotricity is an independent energy supplier that invests in large wind turbines. At Swaffham in Norfolk it built the country’s first multi-megawatt wind turbine, which alone provides enough energy for 3,000 people. The renewable energy certificates earned by Ecotricity are sold on to help other energy suppliers meet their government targets. The profits earned from the tariff and the sale of certificates are then used to build further wind farms and turbines. Ecotricity have been particularly pro-active in building new power sources of renewable energy – this helps increase the amount of renewable energy available to the UK market, and they also support micro-generation project. Ecotricity offers one electricity tariff called Green Electricity which is 100% renewable.

Final Thoughts: The Future

Switching to a green energy supplier is a positive step to take – it is a win-win situation both for the environment and your peace of mind. What you are doing when you switch is registering your support for more environmental awareness from energy suppliers and has an impact on the future of government policy. For example, since 2005 all energy suppliers have had to disclose the exact sources of their electricity and how much came from renewables (their “energy mix”). Green energy supplier Good Energy decided to spearhead this disclosure and showed the market the way forward by making their sources, which are 100% UK renewables, available to the public in advance. So by supporting green energy suppliers you can also show your support for government reform. It has never been easier to switch your energy supplier than it is now. All it takes is a simple phone call or compare further and switch through an online comparison site. You can start helping to create a cleaner planet. So why wait?

Since 2002 under the Renewable Obligation schemes for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, electricity suppliers must source an increasing proportion of their electricity from renewable sources. These schemes were introduced by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Scottish Executive and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment respectively and are administered by the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (whose day to day functions are performed by Ofgem). The top rating indicates that over 50% of the company’s energy is generated only from renewable sources. The middle rating indicates that the company generates more than the minimum requirement of its energy from renewable sources (which is set each year by the above mentioned authorities). Companies that do not reach the minimum target are given a bottom rating.


Key Research

Below you will find links to the key sections of our ethical research in Energy:

Look out for our new sector specific Ethical Accreditation‍‍‍‍‍‍ certification

marks which now cover over 15 different consumer product sectors. These are additional to our original Ethical Company mark that features on the packaging of over 100 million consumer products every year.
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