Buying green electricity

Most of of the UK's electricity comes from burning fossil fuels (such as coal, oil and gas) which is a major contributor to climate change. Read more about green alternatives on this page.

Carbon-free electricity 

Carbon-free sources of electricity, including nuclear and renewables, account for approximately a quarter of total electricity production.

The proportion of ‘green’ electricity being used is growing steadily. This increase is due to policies such as the Renewables Obligation (find details of the Renewables Obligation at Ofgem and the Feed-In Tariff, which support new renewable generation, as well as reductions in total electricity demand, which make the existing renewable contribution go further.

The UK Government wants at least 30 per cent of our electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020.

Green electricity offerings

Most energy suppliers offer 'green' electricity tariffs. These seek to support renewable energy. The two main types of offering are green supply tariffs and green funds.

Green supply tariffs

A green supply tariff means that some or all of the electricity you buy is 'matched' by purchases of renewable energy that your energy supplier makes on your behalf. These could come from a variety of renewable energy sources such as wind farms and hydroelectric power stations. Your supplier should let you know what sources are included in the mix, and also what proportion of your supply is renewable.

Many green tariffs state that your supply is renewable but they simply assign some of the renewable energy they are already required to supply to you, while reducing the amount of renewable energy they provide to other customers. This does not increase the amount of renewables in the overall energy mix.

Some companies will guarantee that a proportion of the renewable energy they are purchasing (and you are buying) is 'additional' - it is above and beyond what suppliers are already required to produce. This creates an additional incentive to develop new generation capacity and so could lead to increased renewable generation and reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

There are no companies offering green tariffs that are 100 per cent additional renewable supply.

Green funds

A green fund usually involves paying a premium to contribute to a fund that will be used to support new renewable energy developments. Under this option, the existing electricity supply continues as normal, but your involvement could help to alter the mix of energy sources in the future toward renewable sources (depending on the type of tariff).

The new generation projects supported may also receive support under existing government support schemes.

Green Energy Supply Certification Scheme

In February 2010, the Green Energy Supply Certification Scheme was launched. This scheme was set up to reduce customer confusion and mis-selling in this marketplace. These tariffs have been independently checked, and meet the energy regulator Ofgem’s Green Energy Supply Guidelines. Find out more on the Green Energy Scheme.

How green are green tariffs?

  • Opting for a green tariff will not mean that the electricity you buy is all renewable. You cannot consider that your electricity supply is zero carbon or carbon neutral.
  • Opting for a green tariff can provide additional incentives for new renewable generation or energy efficiency measures, and so lead to some additional carbon dioxide savings in the long term.
  • If you opt for a Certified Green Energy Supply, then there will be some guaranteed additional benefit.  Green tariffs are no substitute for energy efficiency and you should always do whatever you reasonably can to reduce your current use of electricity and other fuels before considering spending money on a green tariff.

The Energy Saving Trust does not recommend specific suppliers of green tariffs.