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Guide to green energy

What you need to know about green energy

published: 25 June 2020
Read time: 5 minutes

Green energy is the coming thing – but what does it really mean, and how can you do your part for the environment?

Green energy comes from renewable sources that won’t run out, rather than non-renewable sources like oil or coal – which we can’t replenish once they’re gone. It’s called ‘green’ to show that it’s better for the environment; producing power from these sources cuts down the negative impact on the planet and has a much smaller carbon footprint.

Is green energy worth it?

Green energy used to come at premium prices, but the cost is falling due to investment in infrastructure, advances in technology and concerns about climate change.

There are now more people than ever before switching to green energy tariffs – where some or all of the electricity you use comes from a renewable source – from a much larger range of suppliers.

Wind turbines

Where does green energy come from?

There are quite a few renewable sources used to make green energy. These include:

  • Wind power: Usually harnessed by turbines in windy areas

  • Solar power: Produced when sunlight is absorbed by solar panels and converted into power

  • Hydroelectric power: Where large volumes of flowing water turn a turbine, usually built into waterfalls or dams over large rivers

  • Wave power: Captured from ocean waves as well as rivers, lakes and canals, generating power from the movement of the waves

  • Tidal power: Lots of energy is produced as the tide changes, due to the moon’s gravitational pull

  • Biofuels: Where biological material such as plant matter and waste food is burned as a source of fuel

  • Geothermal power: This uses heat that comes from deep within the earth to generate electricity

Is nuclear power a green energy source?

Current thinking in the UK includes nuclear power when discussing zero or low-carbon energy sources, as it generates far fewer emissions than fossil fuels.

It is not considered a renewable or green source of energy, as a result of the cost and impact of disposing of nuclear waste or dismantling obsolete power plants.

How much green energy does the UK produce?

The UK aims to generate 30% of its energy from renewable sources by the end of 2020.

In May 2019, Britain enjoyed its first ever coal-free fortnight, where electricity was generated entirely from sources other than coal, a huge improvement since the first coal-free day in 2017.

And in 2020, Britain went months without using energy generated by coal – a record that’s only set to keep building as the technology improves and take-up increases.

Meanwhile there were more than a million solar installations across the UK by July 2019.

How can I be greener?

It can be daunting to consider how our lifestyle affects the planet, and you may find yourself at a loss as to where to start. But there are a number of simple steps you can take to cut down on your energy usage and help make your home greener – from adjusting the way you use appliances and energy, to improving your home’s efficiency.

Easy, low-cost suggestions for greener living include:

  • Washing your clothes at lower temperatures

  • Turning appliances off when not in use, rather than leaving them on standby

  • Adding thermal lining to light-weight curtains to retain heat when closed

  • Replacing low-efficiency light bulbs with energy-saving alternatives such as LEDS

  • Fixing dripping taps, which has the additional benefit of not driving you mad at night!

  • Using your fridge and freezer more efficiently. A full freezer is best from an energy usage point of view, while a refrigerator requires enough space for air to circulate. Make sure doors create a tight seal, and only open them for the briefest time possible; standing in front of an open fridge looking for things raises the internal temperature –and your energy bills!

  • Buying draught excluders to help your home retain its heat

Small, cheap and relatively painless changes like this can add up and make a real impact on the amount of energy you use for everyday things – which has the additional benefit of potentially noticeable savings on your energy bills.

There are also more drastic measures you can turn to that might cost more in the short term, but can help reduce how much power your home uses. For example:

  • Investing in more efficient appliances once your current ones are finished

  • Improving the way your home retains heat by installing roof and wall insulation

  • Replacing single-glazed windows with double or triple glazing.

Is green energy suitable for businesses?

If you own a business, you could benefit from switching your business energy supplier, and MoneySuperMarket can help you find a better business energy deal. Call us on 0800 088 6986, and our energy experts will help you compare deals from multiple providers so you can save money on energy for your business.

Is it possible to generate your own energy at home?

Yes, and lots of households already do. Subject to sufficient space and a suitable position – as well as any relevant permissions – it is possible to erect domestic solar panels and/or a wind turbine. You can also sell any excess energy you generate back to the National Grid.

Can you really make money from generating electricity at home?

The short answer is ‘sort of’. Although the costs of equipment and installation have come down noticeably in the last five to 10 years, the initial outlay is still quite high, and it may take some time for the electricity you generate for your personal use to recoup those costs.

If you had already installed a domestic generation system before 31 March 2019, then you may still be eligible to join the government-run Feed-In-Tariff scheme, which would let you sell surplus energy back to the National Grid. In order to be eligible you need a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certificate issued on or before that date.

What are feed-in-tariffs?

A feed-in-tariff is when households or businesses are paid to generate their own power through green methods like solar panels or wind turbines. The extra power is sent back to the National Grid, but the exact amount you are paid depends on how much you produce, and how much of it is sold back – with the rates set by Ofgem. It was a way of encouraging people to contribute more directly to the green energy effort by literally making their own electricity.

The Feed-In-Tariff scheme effectively closed to new applicants on 1 April 2019.

Is green energy reliable?

Green energy is reliable, and it will only improve the more widespread it becomes and as the relevant technology improves. People are often put off green suppliers because of the fear of an unreliable service or unpredictable interruptions to their supply. For example, even though the sun does not always shine, it is still possible to generate solar power on cloudy days.

Is green energy more expensive?

Green energy tariffs are becoming getting more competitive due to the rise of public interest in the renewable energy sector. The percentage of people in favour of using renewable energy in the UK rose to 85% in 2018, as reported by the Department of Energy and Climate Change – up from 79% in the previous year.

Which are the green energy companies?

Green energy suppliers provide the grid with ecologically sourced power, which is then split across the UK. Among them are more established providers like Green Star Energy, Ecotricity and Green Energy as well newer entrants to the market like Bulb and Octopus, whose tariffs are included in our energy comparison tool. These companies are frequently encourage app-based account management and may offer paperless billing by default.

Mainstream suppliers offering green energy tariffs, as well as dedicated green energy suppliers, get a bigger proportion of their fuel from renewable sources. Some green suppliers are able to produce 100% of their electricity from zero-carbon sources.

You can check how much renewable energy your supplier (or any other) produces by looking at its ‘fuel mix’ information. This shows how much of the power they sell has come from coal, gas, nuclear sources, renewable sources and other sources, so you can see how green they really are.

This information can be found on their website, because suppliers are required by Ofgem to publish these figures annually. You may also be able to find it on your energy bill, while you can contact your supplier directly to inquire.

It’s worth noting that even if your tariff is for 100% renewable energy, this is never guaranteed. All the electricity produced in the UK pools in the National Grid before being distributed to consumers, including electricity from both green and non-green sources, so you can never really know exactly where your electricity is coming from.

Compare green energy prices

In normal circumstances, comparing energy prices is a good way to cut your bill, and it’s easy to get started. You just need to give us a few details, including your current supplier, your postcode, and payment and contact information. You may find it useful to have a good idea of either how much you currently spend on energy or your annual usage as this will help with accuracy.

Right now, it's not possible to switch to a better deal. But you can still run a comparison and leave your email with us. We'll let you know when different tariffs are available to you. You can compare deals from both major suppliers and smaller energy firms, as well as estimated annual and monthly costs.

Once it's available again, switching suppliers is straightforward – it’s mostly handled by the providers, and all you’ll need to do is keep a recent bill handy so you can compare prices and find the best deal. You won’t lose supply or need any new installations, and if you choose to fast track your switch you should be with your new supplier in just five working days.

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