Friday, 5 March 2010

Switching to a “Green” Supplier

What is a Green Supplier?

A green energy supplier is an electricity supplier which sources the electricity they supply from a renewable source. At the moment, there are very few options for switching to a green supplier for gas. This is because the uptake of sources of renewable gas in the UK are so few and far between at present.

Consumers have been able to change our electricity supplier since the mid 1990s but still relatively few people choose to switch supplier despite the fact that by switching supplier, customers can choose to save money or make ethical choices about the energy they consume.

There are a number of suppliers with green credentials out there. Some of the biggest suppliers operate green tariffs which involve sourcing energy from renewable sources and a donation to a charity such as the National Trust. For details about different companies and tariffs available go to: This site gives a comprehensive account of the sources of the electricity being sold different suppliers. You can also use this site to sign up to a new supplier but be sure to look at the individual company’s website first because this site earns referral fees from suppliers so you may pay a lower fee by going direct to the supplier.

Types of Renewable Energy

Suppliers operate by sourcing electricity from generators and selling it on to consumers at a profit. Your new green supplier could source all or some of its energy from renewables such as:

Waste incineration (this is still termed a “renewable” source of energy)

As the uptake of renewables increases, suppliers may be able to source electricity from tidal and wave power and off shore wind farms. However, sourcing from solar would be a more practical solution for individual households for the foreseeable future rather than electricity suppliers and until the production and subsequent improves, I think it will be extremely difficult for a consumer to source a 100% renewable heat supply from an energy supplier.

Some suppliers only source a proportion of their electricity from renewables and you will have to consider which tariff and which company appeals to you. Doing some research before switching is recommended! It is likely that you will not be able to avoid a supplier that buys some of its electricity from waste incineration generators.

You may also wish to consider the way a supplier makes use of ROCs. “ROC” stands for Renewables Obligation Certificate. All electricity suppliers have an obligation to supply a minimum percentage of the electricity they supply from renewable sources. If a supplier cannot or does not meet this requirement, they have to either:

buy ROCs from other organisations; or
pay a fee (which is comparatively more expensive than buying ROCs.

Renewable generators obtain income from ROCs which helps keep the price down for their customers (the suppliers) because renewable generation is more expensive than burning fossil fuels to generate electricity. Some suppliers choose to “retire” their ROCs instead of trading them with the generators. This means that there are fewer ROCs for suppliers to buy which in turn, creates an opportunity for increased investment in renewables. If you are thinking about switching, do consider what percentage of their ROCs your supplier sells and which proportion it keeps. Selling ROCs will generate income for your supplier which might (but only “might”) reduce the cost a bit for you. Buying electricity from a 100% renewable supplier is still likely to be a bit more expensive than buying from one of the “usual” suppliers. However, you can always use this as an incentive to use less energy when you make the switch!

How to make the switch

First, do your research! Get some quotes from suppliers. You can get a more accurate quote if you know roughly how much electricity you use per year or per quarter. When you are happy that you want to switch and have found a company that you want to switch to - then sign up!

It is usually possible to sign up online. You will need to complete various forms and it will take a couple of weeks (estimated) before you have switched supplier. Some suppliers will be able to talk you through the process over the phone and should be able to answer any questions that you may have.

Good luck!

Melanie Brookes

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