With the government pledging to make the UK carbon-neutral by 2050, more and more people are trying to figure out ways to make a positive environmental impact.

If you’re keen to do your bit for the environment, switching to a green energy tariff which supports renewable energy generation is an easy way to start. In fact, a third of British homes are already signed up to green tariffs.

In this article, we take you through the ins and outs of green energy tariffs, explain how to switch to one, and flag why you shouldn’t always take renewable energy claims at face value

What is green energy?

Renewable energy, more commonly known as “green” energy, is any kind of energy that can be generated from natural sources with minimal or zero carbon emissions. This includes:

  • Solar power: when sunlight is absorbed through panels and converted to electricity
  • Hydroelectric power: when flowing water is used to rotate a turbine, generating electricity
  • Wind power: when wind causes the turbine to rotate on an electric windmill, producing electricity
  • Geothermal power: when heat occurring naturally from the earth is used to generate electricity

Of course, some of these ways of generating energy still carry some kind of environmental impact, especially when they involve installing machinery in natural environments. That said, promoting green energy in favour of energy produced by fossil fuels such as coal is considered essential in the fight to reduce carbon emissions and minimise the effects of climate change.

How do green energy tariffs work?

Switching to a green energy tariff doesn’t mean that all of the energy in your home will be from 100% renewable sources. Electricity generated from both renewable and non-renewable sources is all mixed together in the National Grid and then fed into people’s homes.

What it does mean is that your provider will match some or all of the energy that your household uses with the amount of renewable energy that they buy. Theoretically, this should mean that the more people who switch to a green energy tariff, the more renewable energy gets used in the Grid overall.

Does my supplier use renewable energy?

Energy suppliers are required by law to publish details of their “fuel mix” and update this information every year. This will tell you what percentage of their energy comes from renewable sources and what percentage doesn’t. You should be able to find a table breaking down your supplier’s fuel mix on their website or on your energy bill.

However, this isn’t foolproof and you can’t always take a supplier’s word about renewable energy at face value. In fact, some suppliers claim to use a much higher proportion of green energy than they actually do. They are able to do so by buying extra REGO certificates, which are explained below.

What is a REGO certificate?

Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO) certificates are issued by Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, to renewable energy generators for every megawatt hour of green energy they produce. A megawatt hour (Mwh) is equal to 1,000 Kilowatt hours (Kwh) and is equal to 1,000 kilowatts of electricity used continuously for one hour. The certificates can then be bought by suppliers, who can submit them to Ofgem to prove they are buying electricity from renewable sources.

The issue is that while these certificates can (and theoretically should) be sold with renewable energy, they are also sold separately for as little as £1 each, so suppliers can buy extra REGO certificates to exaggerate how much renewable energy they are actually using. They can therefore continue to buy electricity from the fossil fuel industry while buying certificates to appear eco-friendly to consumers, in a practice that some refer to as “greenwashing”.

Suppliers often claim to use 100% renewable energy in their fuel mix but this isn’t necessarily always the truth – if their older fuel mixes show large proportions of non-renewable sources but their new ones suddenly seem to be all-green, then you probably have reason to be suspicious. The government has recently launched a review into the rules around green tariffs in an attempt to curb greenwashing and push suppliers to be more transparent about how they source their energy.

This doesn’t mean that fuel mixes can’t provide useful information to help you choose a supplier, or that every supplier is lying. However, if you can do your own research into how a supplier sources their energy, or contact them to ask how they do this and whether they buy REGO certificates, you may get a more accurate idea.

Which providers offer the best green energy tariffs?

Quite a few providers offer green energy tariffs, from larger companies to smaller, specialist brands.

British Gas’s Green Future tariff, for example, promises to match 100% of their customers’ electricity usage with renewable sources. Those on the tariff also have 100% of their CO2 footprint balanced by carbon-cutting projects and renewable biogas, and protect five trees in the UK.

Good Energy, a smaller provider that specialises in renewable energy, only offers energy which is sourced from solar, wind and hydro power in the UK, whilst Pure Planet enables you to power your home with 100% renewable electricity and carbon offset gas.

Are green energy tariffs more expensive?

While green tariffs used to be more expensive than non-green tariffs when they first appeared on the market, they are growing increasingly affordable as their popularity rises, with many specialist brands such as Good Energy, Bulb and Octopus Energy offering competitive deals. With the government’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions and an increasing focus on renewable energy, the costs of green tariffs are expected to continue to fall in the future.

How do I switch to a green energy tariff?

The best way to get started looking for a green energy tariff is to compare deals from a range of different various providers. This energy comparison tool allows you to compare energy deals for your home by entering just a few key bits of information. Once you have your results, you can filter for green tariffs specifically by scrolling down and using the options on the left-hand side.

After you’ve settled on the green tariff you want, all you need to do is get in touch with the provider – either online or by phone. They’ll take care of the switch on your behalf, including making sure your old provider ends their service to you. All being well, the switch should take about 3 weeks at most to complete – just don’t forget to pay your final bill to your old provider. You can read more about how to switch energy providers in our Energy switching FAQs.

Are you on a green tariff? What other kinds of things do you do to help the environment? We’d be interested in hearing from you. You can join the money conversation on the Rest Less community or leave a comment below.

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