To a lot of people, ‘renewables’ means energy from sources which are non-polluting, sustainable or carbon neutral.
In a Populus survey of over 2,000 UK energy customers, 43% believed this to be the case. In fact, many energy providers use ‘renewable’ to describe energy from ‘dirty’ sources, including biomass. This involves burning wood or waste and releases both solid carbon particulates and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) into the air.
So we’re calling on Ofgem to enforce a new label to clear up the confusion and empower consumers to make informed choices.
Big energy companies promote their renewable tariffs with a natural, green image
The big energy companies promote their non-standard offers with an variety of positive-sounding terms including ‘renewable’ ‘green’, ‘blue’, ‘better’, ‘smart’ and ‘low carbon’, and images of solar, wind or hydro generation.
The big energy companies promote their non-standard offers with an interchangeable variety of terms including ‘renewable’ ‘green’, ‘blue’, ‘better’, ‘smart’
Why we need clear definitions and information on our energy sources
When we audited big energy company websites to find out what sources were actually included in their products, we found a confusing variety of terms and an absence of definitive information.
- Non-standard offers were promoted with a variety of terms including ‘renewable’ ‘green’, ‘blue’, ‘better’, ‘smart’ and ‘low carbon’ - none of which are defined anywhere on the site.
- Their green tariffs include a variety of sources: solar, wind and hydro, but also biomass (British Gas, E.On, SSE, OVO), landfill gas (British Gas), sewage gas (OVO), and nuclear (EDF
- npower and Scottish Energy’s sites are unclear what energy sources are included in their ‘green’ products.
- These tariffs often cost more than the standard offers, despite the falling cost of renewable generation and the generous subsidies on offer for biomass
See the bottom of this post for our full review.
People are confused and want more information
We surveyed 2,110 consumers, representative of the UK population, on 26 April 2018 with Populus.*
- 87% of people want energy companies to provide information on exactly what sources go into their renewable energy.
- Only 34% of the respondents knew that renewable energy includes biomass, in contrast to 85% who understood that renewable meant solar and wind power, and 75% who also included hydro power.
- When offered an explanation of what biomass is, only 23% of respondents agreed that it could be suitably interpreted as 'green' energy.
* This research was carried out by Populus on behalf of Squeaky. Fieldwork took place between the 25th and 26th April 2018 to a UK sample of 2,110 adults aged 18+ and weighted to the profile of all UK adults. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at www.populus.co.uk.
Burning wood or waste: renewables dirty secret
As highlighted in a recent Channel 4 documentary biomass means burning wood or waste which releases both solid carbon particulates and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). To make matters worse, often the wood pellets have been imported from the US on oil fuelled ships.
Our plan to clean up green energy
We call on energy industry regulator Ofgem to develop and enforce a clear standard labelling system for energy products, a little like the colour-coded nutritional information on pre-packaged food. Here’s something we’ve mocked up…
A clear, simple system like this could provide the information that people need to make informed choices about the source of their energy.
Here are the definitions that we think the industry should adopt.
Energy that is derived from natural, non-polluting, UK resources that are capable of being replenished in a short time scale, such as wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal and hydropower.
Energy that is derived from non-fossil sources: wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, hydropower, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogases, and can be imported from overseas.
Energy that is derived from all forms of generation including oil, coal, gas, nuclear and renewable energy.
Our review of big energy companies’ ‘green’ products
On 30 April 2018 we audited information available on these energy company’s websites about their ‘green’ tariffs, to try to understand what terms they use, what sources they contain, and how consistent they are. Here’s what we found.
|Term(s) used||Energy sources listed|
|British Gas||Renewable sourced electricity (business)||Offshore / onshore wind
|E.ON||Renewables for business, Clean Energy tariff (residential)||Offshore wind
Biofuels / biomass