Second only to emissions from transport, the largest proportion of a typical practice’s carbon footprint is due to energy use, primarily electricity and gas. For this reason, switching to renewable energy is one of the easiest ways to reduce your practice’s emissions.
The renewable energy industry has grown hugely over recent years, with renewables accounting for 42.8% of UK electricity generation in the final quarter of 20211. At the same time, the price of renewable tariffs has reduced and many such contracts are now cheaper than traditional contracts. For this reason, there has never been a better time to switch.
What is renewable electricity?
In the UK, the main renewable sources are wind and solar, with a small amount from other sources such as hydroelectric and tidal power. These are called ‘renewable’ sources because the power comes from natural sources that are unlimited in supply. Although nuclear power doesn’t produce carbon dioxide and is considered by some as a green alternative to fossil fuels, it does produce nuclear waste which means it is not generally classed as ‘green’.
How do renewable tariffs work?
The national grid is made up of a pooled network of suppliers. This means that, when you switch to a renewable tariff, the actual mix of energy you receive does not change. However, suppliers offering a renewable electricity contract do so by proving that they are producing or purchasing from renewable sources the equivalent power used by their customers.
However, as with all industries, some suppliers are more honest than others. In the UK, renewable electricity generators are granted certificates called Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificates which certify that the electricity was generated from a renewable resource. Unfortunately, a loophole in the current system means that companies (so-called ‘light green suppliers’) can purchase these certificates without ever producing or purchasing truly renewable electricity.
In order to understand how ‘green’ a supplier actually is, ask them to provide an annual breakdown of the electricity mix they purchase or generate. Ultimately, if a tariff looks too good to be true, it probably is!
What about ‘green gas’?
‘Green gas’ can be produced either from the breakdown of organic materials (biomethane), or from biofuel crops (syngas). The UK doesn’t currently produce enough green gas to supply all customers who want it, so many companies offer carbon offsetting as an alternative. To find out whether your energy supplier can provide green gas, check whether they are a member of the Green Gas Certification Scheme (https://www.greengas.org.uk/).
Where to start
The choice of suppliers offering 100% green electricity has grown hugely over recent years, and most of the Big Six energy companies (British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, Npower, Scottish Power, and SSE) offer renewable tariffs. A number of smaller suppliers have also popped up with sustainability at the core of their business model; examples of these include: Green Energy UK, Ecotricity, Octopus Energy, and Ovo Energy.
For more information, take a look at ‘Big Clean Switch’ (https://bigcleanswitch.org/business/), an energy comparison site who will provide a free, tailored consultation to find the most suitable and cost-effective renewable energy supply for your practice. If you are on a fixed deal, find out when this is due to end as this is often the most cost-effective time to switch.
Remember also that the cleanest form of power is the power you don’t use in the first place! By prioritising energy efficiency measures, you can reduce your bills and resilience to rising energy prices while making sure the electricity you’re supplied with isn’t going to waste.