01.Why go green?
The burning of fossil fuels, such as the coal used to generate electricity for our homes, causes greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the earth's atmosphere, resulting in global warming and climate change. In Australia, per capita electricity consumption, powered mainly by coal, is high. The uncomfortable reality is that most of us are directly contributing to a looming environmental catastrophe.
One simple and relatively cheap way that we can start to address this problem is by switching our electricity to accredited GreenPower. This means buying power from clean renewable sources such as the sun, wind, water and waste (biomass), rather than coal.
The average Australian household emits around seven tonnes of greenhouse gases from its domestic electricity consumption alone every year (that’s not including greenhouse gas emissions from other sources such as our cars). Choosing a 100% accredited GreenPower product would reduce those emissions to nil. That’d have the same effect as taking the average car off the road for over a year.
How to get the best value
CHOICE research has found there are big price differences between accredited GreenPower products.
GreenPower generally costs more than standard electricity, but what you’ll pay depends on the percentage of accredited GreenPower and the retailer you choose:
- The average household could pay over $400 a year extra for 100% GreenPower — roughly an additional 20% to 40% above government-regulated standard electricity rates — but using our guide to choose a cheaper retailer would cut that bill by half or even more (depending on your electricity consumption, where you live and which retailers are available).
- Buying less than 100% GreenPower does less to help the environment but is obviously cheaper — under $100 a year for most people. Several companies offer 10% accredited GreenPower at no extra cost above regulated electricity rates.
How GreenPower works
GreenPower is the government program that accredits, polices and audits green electricity in Australia. Only energy that comes from genuinely renewable sources built after 1997 (to support and create investment in new renewable energy) and approved by the government scheme, can be sold under the brand name GreenPower.
Electricity that’s fed into our homes comes from the National Electricity Grid, which gets its power from generators of both ‘green’ and ‘black’ electricity. At present, the mandatory amount of renewable (green) energy that must be fed into the grid each year is pretty low — around 2% to 3%. That excludes additional GreenPower sales – where you can make a contribution.
When you buy accredited GreenPower, that proportion of the electricity you use is replaced in the grid by energy from new renewable sources. So you’re increasing the proportion of green energy in the grid. Buying GreenPower doesn’t mean different electricity will flow into your house (you won’t have ‘green’ electrons powering your toaster or TV), but with accredited products you’re assured by the state governments running the initiative that the energy you use will be replaced in the grid by clean renewable energy, rather than energy from ‘black’ sources. You’ll also be supporting investment in new renewable energy generators.
Accredited energy sources include biomass, hydro, wind and solar. The specific source of energy may also affect some people’s choice — you may, for example, prefer to support wind or solar over hydro generators. It can also affect the price.
Look for the logo
The logo indicates that a product is accredited. The percentage (75% in this example), tells you the proportion of accredited GreenPower. The remaining 25% could be from black energy, such as coal, or from old renewable sources such as old hydro energy schemes.
Only the accredited portion makes a difference to the growth of new renewable energy, and in reducing greenhouse gases now and in the future, so if that’s what you want to do, only buy accredited GreenPower products — and obviously, 100% accredited makes the biggest difference.