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5 August 2020
Attitudes and behaviours are changing and many are opting to go greener. The good news is that green energy can also save you money, as many of the cheapest deals offer renewable electricity and some renewable gas. This guide explains what green energy is, how to switch and also has our top pick of renewable tariffs.
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In the past, opting for renewable energy tariffs was often more expensive, but things have changed. Many energy firms have gone green and cheap as a way to attract new customers – meaning most can still make huge savings on energy bills.
Here are the need-to-knows to help you choose a tariff that's right for you.
When we talk of 'green' energy, we mean generating electricity using the likes of hydro, solar, wave or wind power that do not deplete the Earth's resources – which is why it's referred to as 'renewable'.
Meanwhile, renewable gas mainly comes from the less common method called 'anaerobic digestion', which involves the breaking down of biodegradable material - or from provider's paying to offset any carbon emissions from producing the gas you use.
This is opposed to using fossil fuels to generate gas and electricity, which results in harmful carbon emissions, mainly involving the extraction and burning of oil, gas or coal.
While some may consider nuclear 'clean' in comparison to the burning of fossil fuels, it's not renewable and tends to not be included in green energy. Plus, it's a controversial topic.
There are a few terms to get your head round to understand how 'green' your tariff is.
Green gas is much harder to generate than renewable electricity, so it's much less common in energy tariffs.
Most that offer it promise to cover just 10% of usage – though we've seen suppliers offering anything from just 6% to 25% of your usage. Only one supplier currently offers 100% fully renewable gas – Green Energy UK.
This is why many suppliers instead offer 'carbon offset gas', promising to plant more trees or invest in forest conservation to nullify the carbon emissions that come from supplying you gas.
Similar to electricity, there's the 'Green Gas Certification Scheme' (GGCS) run by the Renewable Energy Association.
It works the same as electricity. GGCS track each kilowatt hour of green gas that's generated, which suppliers buy to prove they've purchased enough green gas to cover your usage.
You can even check your gas is green online – using the certificate your supplier should give you when you switch to a tariff that offers any amount of renewable gas.
Even when you switch to a green tariff – one that promises 100% renewable electricity, or some renewable gas – the energy flowing into your home doesn't change.
That's because we get it from the nationwide network that's fed from multiple sources.
But when you go for a green tariff, your supplier will buy enough renewable energy to cover what you use to fund future production, or it invests in schemes to offset carbon emissions produced from the energy you use, such as planting trees.
As you're not getting renewable electricity pumped into your home directly, there's a reliance on your supplier buying enough renewable energy to cover whatever you use from the national network.
It does this through a scheme called the Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO), run by the regulator Ofgem.
This scheme tracks the amount of energy being generated and pumped into the mix. Every time a certain amount of renewable energy is generated, it issues a certificate to whoever generated it. Suppliers then buy these certificates, and the energy, from these generators to prove how much they are buying.
When looking for a green tariff, you can't just go by supplier as even firms with 'green' in their name may have a non-renewable tariff.
So you need to check your tariff – look for terms like renewable electricity, renewable gas and carbon offset gas.
Yet even tariff-by-tariff there are different shades of green. Some simply offer 100% renewable electricity. Some will do that and throw in some renewable gas or carbon offset gas. Others will even invest in or own their own solar or wind farms on top of this.
If you want the 'greenest' tariff going, it'll cost a whole lot more than just opting for a cheap 100% renewable electricity tariff.
For a fully renewable tariff, with 100% renewable electricity & gas, we can find just one supplier – Green Energy UK. Yet for a typical user it's over £225/year more than the average big six standard deal at a whopping £1,351/year. So clearly it is only for those for whom being green is the most important factor.
Other options include suppliers such as Good Energy and Ecotricity. While not 100% renewable gas like Green Energy, these suppliers own and invest directly in wind and solar farms, and often buy their energy directly from renewable generators.
The best way to find a cheap green energy tariff is to use a comparison website. Most will let you filter the results so you just see renewable tariffs. Our Cheap Energy Club does this – plus it will let you know when you can save again in future.
To find your cheapest deal, grab a recent bill from your current provider – so you know how much gas and electricity you're using for an accurate comparison – and use one of our green comparison links below, where you can filter the results to suit your preferences.
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Turning down your thermostat just one degree and putting on a jumper can cut your bills by £80/yr. Other top tips include turning off lights when you leave a room, using energy-saving light bulbs, turning electrical goods off rather than leaving them on standby and making sure the fridge isn't on too high (if it needs to be regularly defrosted then it likely is).
The key benefit is that it ups the overall demand for energy generated from renewable sources. The more demand there is, the more energy generators will invest in things like solar and wind farms.
This, in turn, reduces reliance on fossil fuels, which produce harmful greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, renewable energy produces very little harmful emissions.
Cost is another benefit as it's now cheap. In recent years, the price of green energy has plummeted, meaning you can still go green and save over £300/yr.
If you prepay for your energy, you can still go green – though there's much less choice. To find renewable prepay deals, see How to spot a green tariff & how to get 'em cheap. Just make sure you have 'prepayment meter' selected as your payment method in your Cheap Energy Club account or when registering.
When we checked, we found just two green prepay tariffs – from Bulb and Tonik Energy.
For more choice, consider shifting to a billed meter if your credit score allows. For how to do this cheaply, see our Cheap Prepay guide.
No, unfortunately not – the energy that flows into your home all comes from a national network. Energy from all sources are dumped into the mix, so you can never be sure the energy you're using comes only from renewable sources.
You can switch to supplies that own and invest in wind and solar firms to help more direct investment in renewable energy. Firms such as Ecotricity, Good Energy and Green Energy all do this.
Yes, you can. If your solar panels were installed and certified before 31 March 2019, you'll get payments for both generating and exporting electricity back to the energy grid under the 'feed-in tariff' scheme.
If you get paid under the 'feed-in tariff', you're still free to switch – you'll get paid for generating and exporting electricity by your old provider, but you can still get your energy supplied by a different one. For more, see Can you switch energy with solar panels?
Previously, solar panels meant big bucks. But the Government has now ended incentives for generating solar energy in your home. Solar panels will still help you cut your energy bills, but without the incentive payments, the sums are less likely to add up.
For our full analysis, see How much do solar panels cost and what's the payback?