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Reason to be Squeaky Renewable energy's dirty secret 9th June

In a Populus survey of over 2,000 UK energy customers, 43% believed ‘renewable energy’ to mean energy from sources which are non-polluting, sustainable or carbon neutral. But, in fact, many energy providers use ‘renewable’ to describe energy from ‘dirty’ sources including biomass, which involves burning wood or waste and which releases both solid carbon particulates and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). 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 interchangeable variety of terms including ‘renewable’ ‘green’, ‘blue’, ‘better’, ‘smart’ and ‘low carbon’, and images of solar, wind or hydro generation.

renewable unstoppable The big energy companies promote their non-standard offers with an interchangeable variety of terms including ‘renewable’ ‘green’, ‘blue’, ‘better’, ‘smart’

There’s no consensus on what ‘green’ products actually include

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.

  • They promote their non-standard offers with a variety of terms including ‘renewable’ ‘green’, ‘blue’, ‘better’, ‘smart’ and ‘low carbon’ - none of which are defined anywhere on 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
  • It’s unclear what energy sources npower and Scottish Energy’s green products include
  • 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.

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…

Energy labelling standards A clear, simple system like this could provide the information that people need to make informed choices about the source of their energy.

A clear, simple system like this could provide the information that people need to make informed choices about the source of their energy. If you agree that energy companies should adopt this labeling, please tweet these images to @ofgem, your energy company and your local MP with the hashtag #dirtysecret and #energycleanup

Our definitions

Here are the definitions that we think the industry should adopt and have based our labels on.

Clean Energy

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.

Renewable Energy

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.

Standard Energy

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 ‘gree’ tarifs, 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
Solar
Biomass
Landfill gas
Hydro
Wave power
E.ON Renewables for business, Clean Energy tariff (residential) Offshore wind
Solar
Biofuels / biomass

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