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Switch Your Energy

Switching your energy may be the easiest step you can take to reduce your CO2 emissions – and it can make a BIG difference.

This is Week 2 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, where we encourage people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a blog each week until COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps. This week,  Ian Yenney, Sustainability Consultant from AECOM’s St Albans office, outlines the benefits of Switching your Energy.

Switching your energy supplier and getting a green tariff is one of the 16 steps that “Count Us In” recommend as the most impactful at reducing your CO2 emissions. It is also incredibly easy to do and may actually save you money, so what are you waiting for?

What actually is a green tariff?

Many energy suppliers now offer “green tariffs” for electricity and natural gas. Green tariffs typically match your consumption with certified renewable energy generation or they might contribute towards environmental schemes on your behalf to offset the impact of the energy used. Suppliers should declare which sources are included in the green tariff, and also what proportion of the supply is renewable.

The electricity and gas that enters your home will not change, as this comes directly from the national grid, supplied by the full range of renewable and fossil fuel based energy sources. This is constantly changing to match the national demand and based on renewable energy generation e.g. how much wind or sun there is.

The energy supply to the grid will not change immediately when you switch your energy to a green tariff, so green tariffs do tend to initially be an accounting exercise i.e. claiming a share of the renewable energy already supplied to the grid, meaning there is less for others to claim. However, in the longer term, the use of green tariffs can promote renewable energy deployment to the grid, which is a big part of why we should switch to green tariffs.

Photo by Nicholas Doherty on Unsplash

Some green tariffs are better than others 

There are energy suppliers that own and operate their own renewable energy sources or buy the energy for their green tariffs from others as it is generated through Power Purchase Agreements. Such green tariffs ensure that the energy supplied is backed up by renewable energy at the time of use. 

However, the renewable energy supply is not always well matched with the demand. For instance, outside peak hours on a sunny and windy day there may be more renewable energy generated than can be used. When renewable energy is generated, a Renewable Energy Guarantees Origin (REGO) certificate is issued. REGO certificates can be sold separately to the energy itself so many suppliers simply buy up excess REGO certificates and then use these to claim the renewable energy generation as part of their green tariffs – even though they will not always be supplying sufficient renewable energy when you are using it. 

“Switching your energy….is actually really easy to do”

What about gas?

It is relatively challenging at present to produce renewable gas (e.g. biogas) and therefore there is much less renewable natural available than renewable electricity; typically this is produced via anaerobic digestion e.g. from food waste.  

As a result, carbon offset gas tariffs are much more common than renewable gas tariffs; the energy supplier pays to plant trees (or undertake other carbon reduction measures) to offset the emissions from your gas. 

“…there are some suppliers that make a big difference….”

When a customer switches to a renewable energy tariff, in the ideal world this would switch on more renewable energy generation capacity. In practice, very few of the suppliers actually build more renewable energy generation based on customers switching to them. However, there are some that make a big difference including pioneering companies who have been doing this for years. 

Energy Saving Trust  identified the following suppliers who all clearly list the renewable sources of their energy on their websites, back in February 2020. They suggest that these tariffs are as green as they get. They note that other suppliers may meet the same standard but couldn’t be identified during the investigation.

  • Green Energy UK – the UK’s only supplier of 100% green gas and electricity – potentially the greenest of the green tariffs.
  • Ecotricity -as well as having renewable sources, this company also supports rewilding through a partnership with RSPB – their tariffs are well worth considering for those who want to also support nature and help address the biodiversity crisis.
  • Good Energy –as well as having renewable sources, this company also offers a specialist tariff for those with Air Source Heat Pumps (see below). 

So does this mean I don’t need to install renewable energy technology at home?

Installing renewable energy technology at home is the most direct and effective way of ensuring the energy you use at home is renewable – this is ‘gold standard’ and highly recommended. It can have a significant upfront cost, which is typically paid back (and more) over a number of years. By contrast getting a green tariff does not typically have an upfront cost. Getting a green tariff is not a substitute for installing renewable energy technology, but rather a complementary measure. Do look out for information to come on the “Get Some Solar” Count Us In step in August.

Photograph: Ian Yenney

“…getting a green tariff does not typically have an upfront cost”

If I have renewable energy at home do I still need to switch?

Even if you have renewable energy technology it is certainly still well worth switching your energy supplier as you will still be importing from the grid when the renewable source is not generating. Your choice of energy tariff can play a key role in maximising the benefits of any renewable energy systems you have at home. If you have solar panels, consider an energy provider which offers the Smart Export Guarantee and get paid for the energy you export to the grid when you can’t use it. Solar Energy UK provide a table of suppliers who offer this.

If you have a heat pump as above there are starting to be some specialist tariffs targeted at supporting the cost effective running of this technology. 

Looking to the future and for those who already have battery storage, it is certainly worth considering a flexible “time-of-use” tariff for which the cost of energy varies through the day depending on demand. This incentivises people to charge their batteries when there is excess renewable energy on the grid and then feed surplus renewable energy into the grid during peak times such as early evening. If you use a flexible tariff effectively, you can reduce your bills whilst also supporting the decarbonisation of the wider energy grid.

Providers such as Octopus Energy offer flexible tariffs and there are expected to be many more providers in future. Watch this space.

“There may be big savings to be found, particularly if you’ve not switched for a while.”

Switching your energy is very easy

On average we are bad at switching our energy provider. MoneySuperMarket suggests nearly 60% of households in the UK are still on the more expensive standard variable rate tariffs, while 23% have never switched their energy provider.

Despite the large number of people who don’t switch their energy provider, it is actually really easy to do.

Ofgem outline the process, and suggest using a price comparison website and having your postcode, the name of your current supplier and tariff to hand (which you can find in a recent bill).  

Citizens Advice Bureau outline other considerations for switching such as whether there might be penalties for switching whilst in the contact period. If you have an older smart meter (SMETS 1), this may not work after the switch or with some suppliers, so you may need to ask your new provider to install a new smart meter (SMETS 2). 

Uswitch, one of the many price comparison websites, have provided a video to show how easy switching is, and they suggest it takes about 10 minutes.

Even if you don’t want to switch your energy supplier, your current supplier may offer a green tariff for you to move to.

The best time to change your energy tariff is any time you don’t have to pay exit fees from your contract; it is good to do so prior to winter when you are likely to have highest usage.

solar panel farm
Photo by American Public Power Association on Unsplash

Switching your energy can also help save money at the same time as going green

Comparison websites tend to allow you to filter for green tariffs, many of which are very competitively priced. There may be big savings to be found, particularly if you’ve not switched for a while and are currently on a standard variable tariff. However, green tariffs are not always the cheapest.

There is no downside to switching your energy

At the very least choosing green energy tariffs sends a message to the industry and to Government that you want to use renewable energy. Green tariffs are a positive way to signal your support for renewable energy. Why wouldn’t you do something so easy and that can save you money whilst helping to save the planet?! 

“At the very least choosing green energy tariffs sends a message to the industry and to Government that you want to use renewable energy.”

Join others in the community and commit this week to taking the Switch Your Energy step on Count Us In and confirm that you’re part of the St Albans Climate Action Network. Then, when you have established that you don’t have to pay exit fees from your current contract, go ahead and make the switch!

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use Ian’s advice to choose the “Switch Your Energy” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26, focussing on one of the 16 steps each week. Look out for next week’s blog on food waste by local foodie, Caroline Wilson.

2 thoughts on “Switch Your Energy”

  1. Really helpful article on green tariffs and renewable energy. Great links to other sources of information on suppliers who are rated by other organisations for their efforts towards green energy and supporting nature conservation.

  2. Pingback: How to green your money so it helps the planet - Sustainable St Albans

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