Guest Post by EKOenergy
The majority of renewable energy production doesn’t contribute to climate change, doesn’t release dangerous pollutants into the air, and doesn’t pump waste into our rivers. Unlike fossil fuels, relying on renewables won’t lead us into an energy crisis years down the line – while the sun shines and the centre of the earth is hot, wind, solar, wave and geothermal won’t run out.
Most people would agree then that aiming for 100% renewable is both the most ethical and the most practical choice. However, with a mere 15 years until we reach the 1.5 degree warming limit agreed on in the Paris accord, we need to show decision makers that we have no time to wait.
One way to push for the rapid green transition we need is to switch to 100% renewable energy in your home. With most energy providers now offering some form of ‘green tariff’, often at the same price or cheaper than the standard ones, switching is easier than ever.
However, these tariffs vary largely in environmental and social benefit. So what should we consider, and how can we find something we can be proud to support?
- Environmental impact – is the energy nature-friendly?
Just because energy is renewable, doesn’t mean it is sustainable – in fact, some power plants can have huge negative effects on the local environment. There are plenty of environmentally friendly renewable options out there, it is just a matter of choosing the right ones.
Take hydropower – trout and salmon need to be able to swim upstream to reach their spawning grounds, and this can be made impossible when a hydropower dam is blocking a river. Species such as the endangered freshwater pearl mussel, which spends part of its life cycle attached to the gills of trout, rely on these fish to survive. This means that a single dam can impact the biodiversity of an entire river. However, with the addition of measures such as fish passes and thorough monitoring, the impacts can be mitigated and hydropower made more sustainable.
One way to find a nature friendly tariff is to go for a supplier who uses less controversial sources of renewables, such as wind and solar. By law, suppliers must openly provide information on their energy mix to their customers, so this information should be easy to find. Alternatively, you can look for energy that has been ‘eco-labelled’. This means that it has been reviewed by an independent panel, who have found it to be eco-friendly and sustainable – including forms of hydropower.
- Climate – does the tariff help to fund new renewables?
Unfortunately, concerning green tariffs, it is not as simple as ‘buying more wind energy results in more wind turbines’.
When you switch to renewable energy, what you are receiving is the exact same energy that you had before: whatever is on the grid closest to your house. The difference is that your energy supplier also buys a certificate to prove that somewhere, an equal amount of energy from a renewable source has been added to the grid. You are effectively buying the energy from that renewable power plant, even if it doesn’t actually end up powering your lightbulbs.
However, it is almost impossible to prove whether these sales cause suppliers to buy extra green energy. There are already laws that require them to source a set percentage of the energy they sell from renewables. When you switch, there is nothing to guarantee that they aren’t just giving you some of the green energy they were already obligated to sell.
Thankfully, there are other, less confusing ways to know you are supporting new renewables. For example, companies such as Ecotricity and Good Energy use a portion of their profits to build their own wind and solar farms. Some, such as Green Energy UK, offer 100% renewable gas, which they are not obligated to sell. Tariffs labelled by EKOenergy contribute to a Climate Fund, which finances renewable projects in developing countries. All of these are things to look for in a tariff – are they doing something concrete that can definitely help the climate?
- Community energy – locally sourced and owned
A less well known benefit of using renewables over fossil fuels is that it gives the opportunity to decentralise our energy system. For fossil fuels, it makes sense for electricity production to take place in one large plant, but renewables such as solar can be installed on scales as small as individual rooftops. People are banding together to build their own wind farms all around the UK, and it is possible to buy your energy from them. Besides providing environmental benefits by reducing the amount of energy lost in transmission, this also allows us to support more locally governed electricity that puts money back into communities.
If this is something that you would like to support, there are now many community and municipality owned wind and solar farms. While renewable community energy tariffs are not yet available everywhere, they are quickly becoming more widespread. OVO energy, for example, have partnered with several community projects around the UK to offer local, 100% renewable tariffs.
So what can you actually do?
If all of these different considerations seem complicated, organisations such as EKOenergy and the Good Shopping Guide can help.
The Good Shopping Guide has created an ethical comparison of energy suppliers, recommending a few green energy companies. It gives information about energy mix, as well as other factors such as animal welfare, pollution and eco accreditation.
EKOenergy, an international non-profit, is working to label eco-friendly renewable energy tariffs in the UK and around the world. Tariffs with the ecolabel pass environmental criteria to ensure sustainability, and guarantee positive climate impact. For each MWh of electricity sold, suppliers must donate money to our Climate Fund, which supports grassroots renewable energy projects in developing countries. What’s more, suppliers selling hydropower contribute to the restoration of river ecosystems, reducing their environmental impact.
Energy tariffs may seem confusing, and there is definitely a lot to consider, but using renewables is still one of the biggest single actions you can take to reduce your personal carbon footprint. The benefits you could give to people, the climate, and the environment are well worth the switch.