Caveat Emptor is a Latin saying which means “let the buyer beware” and it’s certainly the case when shopping for green electricity from major utilities.
It’s been very encouraging to see so many people wanting to do their bit towards going green at home – and one of the ways of doing so is to take advantage of “green” options on offer from electricity providers; particularly if you don’t have the cash to install solar power directly on your home. But there are a few pitfalls to watch for.
How do green power programs work?
To hook up with green electricity usually is as simple as a phone call to your current provider and ask what sorts of options they provide. To get green electricity, you’ll usually just need to commit to pay a premium over and above your current rate. The extra amount can cost just a couple of cents per kilowatt, but could be as high as twenty cents, so it certainly pays to shop around. The good news is that since green energy is becoming more popular, prices are generally dropping.
There’s no change at your meter box or any change in wiring. The way it works is that you don’t actually get the green juice going directly to your house, but the equivalent amount of electricity you use is pumped into the general grid from a renewable resource. In theory, that’s how it should work.
Green electricity pitfalls
The wonderful thing about getting green power in this way is convenience – a phone call and usually it’s done. However, it’s this ease that has led some utilities to be a little misleading about how they source the green power. It’s also down to the consumer’s own views of what’s green and what’s not when it comes to electricity generation.
For example, “renewable” or “clean” energy may come from hydro-electric power stations or through the burning of crop by-products. The following is a list of various resources that may be used to generate what a company terms green power:
– Wind power
– Solar power (aka PV)
– Hydro power
– Wave power
– Tidal power
– Geothermal energy
– Landfill gas
– Waste incineration
Arguably, wind, solar, wave, tidal and geothermal are the most environmentally friendly sources as they don’t require the burning of any fuel to create steam to drive turbines – the burning of anything such as biomass, landfill gas or waste contributes to greenhouse gases; the primary cause of global warming. Hydro power usually comes at a great cost to the environment too, such as the building of dams which can wreak havoc on river ecosystems.
Another thing to watch for – in some countries it’s mandated by the government that X% of electricity from a utility must be from a renewable source. In these cases, the green power is already being generated so you could be paying twice for that component.
How to find green electricity providers
Over the last few years the number of major utilities offering green electricity has blossomed. If you want to hunt around for the best deal, or the “greenest”, here’s some options in various countries
The US Department of Energy offers an easy to use tool – simply click on the map and it will bring up providers in your state; along with how each provider sources the electricity and also the rate.
Pollution Probe, a Canadian non-profit environmental organization offers a consumer guide to buying green power in Canada. The map on this page links to summaries of national and provincial green power programs available.
The Green Electricity Marketplace is a green power search engine that provides rankings on the various utilities’ offerings also allows you to sign up with providers online. All you need to do is enter your postcode to see lists of products and scores for electricity companies that supply your area. The site was founded by Dr John Green and Graham Stein, who had worked on energy issues previously for Friends of the Earth Scotland. They state that they do receive referral fees from providers in some instances, but that doesn’t bias their assessments and recommendations.
Green Electricity Watch (GEW), established in 2002 by the Australian Conservation Foundation, Total Environment Centre, and WWF-Australia, provides a ranking of green electricity products to help consumers choose which ones make the most difference to Australia’s and their own greenhouse gas emissions.
You can select your state and see a list of various providers’ star rankings – you might get a shock to discover who’s at the top in your state.. and at the bottom. Green Electricity Watch only includes accredited GreenPower products
Green tags and offsets
If nothing is available in your country directly from electricity utilities, you can still offset your electrical consumption impact through the use of green tags and offsets.
Something to bear in mind – it doesn’t matter how green anything is – it’s how much we use of it that counts. Waste and hyperconsumption has exacted a horrible toll upon the environment.
Whether your home is powered by green electricity or not, we can all make a difference by reducing the amount of power we use. Simple things, like turning off lights when not in use, using efficient light bulbs and addressing phantom loads can not only lighten our environmental footprint, but save us a substantial amount of cash too!