The UK electricity market was gradually opened to competition in the 1990s, and since 1998 all consumers have been able to choose their electricity supplier. Most suppliers have been competing on the basis of price, but a growing number are now introducing 'green' electricity tariffs. Green electricity is generated from renewable resources: wind power, hydro-electric, or biofuels such as landfill gas. Solar, tidal, wave, and other power sources are still experimental.
Government regulations and incentives put in place over the past few years are having an impact on energy consumption patterns, and power companies across the country are responding to consumer demand for renewable energy.
To provide a financial incentive for businesses to source green energy and invest in energy efficiency, a national tax, the Climate Change Levy, was introduced in 2001. A year later, the Renewables Obligation set national targets for energy suppliers to increase the proportion of electricity they generate from renewable sources, backed by a financial penalty for companies that failed to meet the targets. This year's target is 4.3%, rising to 10% by 2010. By signing up to a green tariff, you provide an incentive for suppliers to exceed this statutory minimum.
For 'small businesses', making the switch to green electricity is simple. At Burcot Forge in Bromsgrove, for example, blacksmith David Eastwood makes all manner of wrought iron implements using power tools running on green electricity. Environmental impact is an important concern for David, so he chose Good Energy as his electricity supplier because they generate 100% of their electricity from renewable energy sources. He says it was easy to get the information he needed about the available options and make the change in electricity supplier, and that even the customer service is better than it was under his previous supplier.
Large national firms and public institutions across the UK are also adopting green electricity. In October, BT struck the world’s largest ever green electricity supply deal with the Worcester-based generating company npower Business, to purchase green electricity for all of BT’s 6,500 telephone exchanges, as well as its satellite stations, offices, and depots.
Public institutions such as universities are making the switch, thanks to campaigns by the national student organisation People and Planet, with Loughborough University becoming the first to switch to 100% green electricity in 2001. Universities are large consumers of power (when Oxford went green in 2002, it became the third-largest consumer of green electricity in England and the sixth largest in Europe) so every institution that switches has a big impact. Local governments across the country are also making the switch, and finding that they can save local taxpayers money in doing so.
Using renewable energy reduces pollution, helps stave off climate change, and reduces dependence on fossil fuels. Electricity from green suppliers is pooled with electricity from other generators into the national grid. By signing up to a green tariff, you influence this overall blend. Nothing changes at the point of delivery; the electricity you receive as a customer will always remain constant and reliable. Birmingham FoE has been running on 100% green electricity for just over two years and we're very happy with it.
However, some green electricity suppliers are greener than others. Friends of the Earth recommend suppliers that generate a large percentage of their power from renewable sources, directly match or exceed the demand for green electricity from consumers, exceed statutory minimum requirements, openly certify their operations, and do not operate old and inefficient fossil fuel power stations. Check out FoE's on-line guide to green tariffs at www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate.
The following companies are recommended by FoE and supply to businesses in the West Midlands. Why not contact them for a quotation?
Good Energy: www.good-energy.co.uk, Tel 0845 456 1640
Green Energy: www.greenenergy.uk.com, Tel 0845 456 9550
To find out more, try the Green Electricity Marketplace, an independent organisation that provides an impartial overview of green electricity tariffs, at www.greenelectricity.org.
Become a Climate Champion!
Do you run a local business or organisation? Are you concerned by climate change and want to do something about it? Birmingham Friends of the Earth are looking for local Climate Champions, organisations prepared to demonstrate that they take climate change seriously. In return, we will present certificates, and publish commendations in Action Briefing, on the web and in the local media.
Interested? Then let us know what you are planning and we'll send you further details of our climate champions initiative. If your organisation has already made the switch to green electricity let us know and you can become one of our champions too. Call Rob or Brian on 0121 632 6909 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We don't all own or run an organisation, but everyone can help make a difference. FoE's personal 'Climate Challenge' was featured in the June/July issue of Action Briefing (on-line at www.birminghamfoe.org.uk/newslet). You may already have switched to green electricity at home. So, how about spreading the word? Maybe you can convince your favourite cafe to switch? Or how about your local pub or shop, or the management at your workplace? If you find a positive lead, let us know and we'll help you take things further.