Green Tariffs — Beware Greenwash, Choose Well

Many of us want to support green energy. We keep hearing we can play our part by switching to a “green tariff”, and we can.

Sadly there is a big trap that we need to learn to recognise: the “green ​tariffs” advertised by many suppliers are a deceptive marketing ploy known as “greenwash”.

Look for explanations and advice from independent organisations to identify the (very few) good green options. Price comparison and switching web sites can be misleading. Some good resources are:

The core of the explanation is this. When we ask our mixed-source energy ​supplier to switch to a “green tariff”, the main things that happen are ​trivial accounting exercises that do not result in any less brown or any ​more green energy being bought or sold or produced.

First, let’s be sure we understand that our electricity is supplied by pouring all the sources into the National Grid, and delivering a portion of the mix to our home like from a tap on a water pipe. There is no technical way to separate out which bit came from which source.

Therefore any claim like “we deliver 100% green energy to your home” is already misleading. The only thing we can potentially achieve by switching is to redirect the money from our bills away from brown sources and into green sources.

What really happens? When we switch to a “green tariff” from our mixed-source energy ​supplier, they may “allocate” to us (on paper) a portion of the existing green energy supply that is really shared among all their customers, thereby deeming the non-green-tariff customers a corresponding bit “browner”, not redirecting our bills towards green supplies, and not changing the overall ​supply or demand at all. Or they may claim “offsetting” or “matching”, cheaply buying up certificates that prove a green source generated that amount of energy. Indeed it did, but not for us, not because of our switching.

They may round it off with talk of tree planting to help us forget about questioning the technicalities.

Companies’ marketing material, price comparison websites, staff on the phone, and even rules from energy regulator Ofgem aren’t helping customers understand…

Which?

The “green tariff” has been advertised for so long and so widely that it is ​hard to believe it does not mean what it ought to, hard to believe the ​industry has got away with such misrepresentation, but this has been going on for years and still is the case in 2021.

If we have already switched or were planning to do so, we might feel deceived. But there is something we can do.

What Can We Do?

The conclusion is simple. Search for articles like those linked above, that list the few suppliers that directly buy or produce renewable energy, investing their customers’ ​bills into increasing renewable generation. The way for a consumer to make a difference is to ​switch to one of those suppliers.


I first mentioned this issue years ago in some notes on Wind Energy when I lived in sight of a wind turbine and decided to make the switch.

Disclaimer: I have no connection to the industry besides being a customer and bond holder of Ecotricity.

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