Two tonnes off? How to cut CO2 by Tom Strathdee

Article on cutting CO2 emissions February 2008, by Tom Strathdee Recycling, switching off electrical gadgets at the wall, and turning down the heating thermostat a couple of degrees are all good ways to cut your carbon footprint. An even bigger gain can be made from moving to a green electricity tariff.The home energy switching organisation Greenhelpline claims that buying electricity on a green tariff can take up to two tonnes of carbon off your yearly climate impact.

Tariff schemes come in two forms. Supply schemes guarantee that a percentage of your electricity will come from renewable sources. Funding schemes invest in renewables projects such as the construction of wind farms, environmental funds or in schemes that, for instance, offset carbon in developing countries.

You may now be asking how effective these schemes are – and what switching could cost you.

Unfortunately, there are as yet no independent accreditation or audit schemes, and the last price estimate discovered is from this time last year when The Green Energy Centre estimated an increase of from £2 to £10 a quarter, with a saving for customers who have not switched utilities before. (Most energy prices have risen recently).

There are many shades of green among the green tariffs and some utilities make extravagant claims that have brought a rush of complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency. It is important to remember that the utilities are not necessarily acting out of altruism since they must meet targets for power from renewables such as wind or solar under Government regulation or pay a penalty.

Green tariffs do not give you electricity directly from green generators. The supplier agrees to put into the grid an amount of green electricity fixed at a percentage of the power supplied to your household (with only a very few providing 100 per cent resourced from renewables).

This brings us to the fuel mix in your supply. If you sign up with Scottish ManWeb’s green

tariff, you will be supporting a company whose overall fuel mix includes 55 per cent electricity from coal-fired generation, 36.7 per cent from natural gas and 6.8 per cent from renewables. Contrast this with the Green Energy company’s +100 Tariff which draws electricity from a mix of 68 per cent natural gas and 32 per cent renewables.


Green Energy’s greater use of renewables is an obvious plus. Less obviously the differing fossil fuel mix of these two companies results in a very different impact on carbon emissions.

The reason is that coal produces TWICE as much carbon dioxide as natural gas when generating the same amount of electricity.

Now we come to Government regulation…where we have a Sir Humphrey’s Heaven, but if you’re switching off, please confine it to the lights!

As stated above, electricity suppliers are compelled by regulation to include a certain amount of renewables electricity in their fuel mix (6.7 in 2007 rising to 15.4 in 2015-16), and their performance is monitored by the independent watchdog Ofwat.

Suppliers receive Renewables Obligation Certificates from the generator to show they are providing electricity from such sources as wind and solar. These Certificates are also traded on an internal market designed to stimulate investment in renewables.The relevance of all this for the green domestic consumer is that some utilities ‘retire’ certificates obtained after they have met the Government target and this is an additional boost to renewables investment.Among several companies doing this is British Gas, which, with its Zero Carbon tariff, aims to increase its use of renewables by 12 per cent (incidentally it is available only as part of a dual fuel deal in which you also buy gas from the company).

Which green tariff might suit you depends on how much you are able or willing to pay for a reduced carbon footprint. If you want to be ‘carbon-neutral’ one option is Good Energy which pledges to match your electricity using neither fossil fuels nor nuclear power. Among the funding tariffs Ecotricity is one of the bigger investors in renewable capacity. But there are many more…

HELPING YOU TO SWITCHTo find out more:

The Good shopping guide gives some useful information at Watch has background information at To switch: Only green tariffs that guarantee at least 10 per cent renewables generation are included in the independent greenhelpline switching service at www.greenhelpline.comThe site of the switching service The Green Marketplace, a similar organisation to the greenhelpline and also independent of the electricity companies, is at