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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. Climate change is happening now, and it is a real concern for us all. Stories of melting ice caps may seem remote today, but they will not be so irrelevant when the resultant rise in sea levels leave the waves lapping around our ankles. Global warming may also result in significant changes to agricultural environments, which could disrupt farming and potentially lead to global food shortages.

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 CO2 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.

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 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 is the 21st largest country by population, is ranked 16th for countries with the greatest CO2 emissions. This means we produce more carbon emissions than Mexico – a country with almost double the UK population.

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 regions 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, water, or the sun. In fact, most forms of renewable energy produce 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

In our Ethical Rating table, companies offering only renewable electricity tariffs have an asterisk next to the brand name – it should be noted, however, that many of these are not necessarily generating any green power themselves – or buying directly from those that do but purchasing Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificates.  A Which? report in 2019 found that customers are being misled by these renewable claims and are concerned that many suppliers are claiming to be green while doing little to support additional renewable energy supply.

Although it can be difficult to find out exactly what each company is offering, we can recommend Ecotricity and Good Energy – both of which generate their own renewable electricity – plus Green Energy which buys directly from renewable generators.  These three companies have also consistently ranked as the best for ethics in our published research over the last 20 years.  We can also recommend Octopus Energy which entered the energy market in 2016 and is backed by Octopus Investments, the UK’s largest investor in solar power.

Further clarification and information about Renewable Electricity can be found in this article from the Energy Saving Trust: https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/home-energy-efficiency/switching-utilities/buying-green-electricity

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”).

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 100% 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 and differs between Great Britain and Northern Ireland). Companies that do not reach the minimum target are given a bottom rating.

We have created an Ethical Rating Table for the following Electricity Suppliers, based on the activities of the company group: Bulb, Good Energy, Green Energy, Ebico, M&S Energy, Octopus Energy, People’s Energy, Pure Planet, So Energy, Budget Energy, Co-op Energy, Ecotricity, Power NI, SSE Airtricity, E.On, Ovo Energy, ScottishPower, Spark Energy, British Gas, SSE, Sainsbury’s Energy, EDF Energy, and Shell Energy. 

Key Research

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

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