Jan 18, 2015: Switching to Green Power

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve described some of the details of our solar power system and our surface mounted electrical system. All of this writing about electricity got me thinking about the source of the electrons so I finally got around to investigating our options for Green Power. From the beginning of the Greeny Flat experiment I’ve been aware of the fact that, although we are making energy from a renewable source (solar) and putting more energy into the grid than we are taking out, we are still using some energy that comes from non-renewable (fossil fuel) sources like coal-fired power plants. It’s been in the back of my mind to investigate switching to Green Power for at least the last nine months but I’ve only just found the time to really look into it… and what a can of worms it has turned out to be!

So What Is Green Power?

Green Power is defined by the official Australian Government website as ‘a government managed scheme that enables Australian households and businesses to displace their electricity usage with certified renewable energy, which is added to the grid on their behalf’. In practice, what this means is that we voluntarily pay a bit more for our electricity in order to support a transition to renewable energy on a national scale.

‘By purchasing GreenPower, households and businesses commit their GreenPower Providers to purchasing the equivalent amount of electricity from accredited renewable energy generators, which generate electricity from sources like wind, solar, water and bioenergy.’

Why do we need Green Power?

We built the Greeny Flat because we believe that the time has come to move towards a fossil free future, so it seemed obvious to me that the energy we need to take from the grid should be coming from renewable sources. After almost nine months in the Greeny Flat we have exported to the grid about four times as much energy as we have imported from it. So we are well and truly energy positive. When the sun is shining and our solar power system is making more electricity than we happen to be using at the time, we are contributing our own ‘green power’ to the national electricity grid. The trouble is that, when the sun isn’t shining and our solar power system is not making electricity, we are importing the electricity we need from the grid and, in NSW at least, the majority of that electricity is coming from coal-fired power plants. This means that we are still contributing to global warming and supporting the coal industry… something we’d rather not do. Buying Green Power is one way that we can support a move away from coal towards a renewable future.

How do we buy Green Power?

The first step for me was to contact our current electricity provider, AGL, to see what they had to offer. We signed up with AGL from the beginning simply because the existing house on this lot was with them and it was simple to add the Greeny Flat. It turns out they have a plan called ‘Green Choice’ which allowed us to switch to 100% Certified Green Power by simply making a phone call and agreeing to pay an extra 5.5c/kWH for the electricity we take from the grid. Since the Greeny Flat is very energy efficient we only import about 300kWh each quarter. This means that buying Green Power will only add about $16 to our electricity bill each quarter so, as a simple first step, I signed up for AGL’s ‘Green Choice’ option.

However in the process of looking into our Green Power options I came across Greenpeace’s ‘Green Electricity Guide’ and that really threw the cat amongst the pidgeons.

The Green Electricity Guide

Greenpeace developed The Green Electricity Guide ‘to help inform Australians about which electricity retailers really are as ‘green’ as they say they are.’ Below is a screenshot from The Green Electricity Guide website page for New South Wales. Down the left hand side you can see all of the companies that provide electricity in the state ranked (by Greenpeace) from ‘greenest’ at the top to ‘dirtiest’ at the bottom based on the following criteria:

  • Investments in fossil fuels or renewables
  • The carbon emissions intensity of assets
  • Support for – or hostility to – Australia’s Renewable Energy Target
  • Solar offers
  • GreenPower products
  • Whether or not they invest in coal seam gas or other unconventional gas
  • Commitment to not buying electricity generated by burning native forest products
Greenpeace's Green  Electricity Guide ranks the available suppliers on the LHS based on their Renewable Energy Credentials

Greenpeace’s Green
Electricity Guide ranks the available suppliers on the LHS based on their Renewable Energy Credentials

If you click on any of the company logos you get more detailed information each company’s performance under the above criteria. For example, below is what the site has to say about our current provider, AGL… and it’s not a flattering assessment calling AGL ‘the single largest emitter of carbon pollution in the country.’

Greenpeace's scathing assessment of AGL.

Greenpeace’s scathing assessment of AGL’s green credentials.

Given our environmental philosophy we really don’t want to be supporting the single largest emitter of carbon pollution in the country. But deciding which of the other companies would be the best choice for us proved to be far from simple. So I decided to compare the cost of the Green Power offerings from all of the companies listed in The Green Electricity Guide. This turned out to be an incredibly complicated and confusing process because it’s almost impossible to compare apples to apples with their different plans. No two companies on this list structure their electricity plans in the same way. They all offer slightly different options. Some have a single rate for all of the electricity used, others have one rate for the first 519kWh/quarter and a higher rate for the rest. One company might charge a certain rate for the first 9kWh/day and a lower rate for the rest. Another company might offer a 3% discount off the usage and supply charges if you pay you bill on time while the next offers a 7% discount (but only off the usage charges) and a third offers a 15% discount off the total amount of the bill after the solar feed-in tariff has been deducted. In short I became extremely confused very quickly. How on earth could I compare these ridiculously complicated variations?

I decided to put together a spreadsheet listing just the 100% Green Power offering from each company (if they had one) based on the cost per day for an average day at the Greeny Flat. Before I show you the results I’d like to point out that the Greeny Flat is a highly unusual case in that we import a very small amount of energy from the grid (3.31kWh/day on average) compared to a typical house with two people in our area (about 15kWh/day according to our AGL bills). We also export a lot of energy to the grid (11.26kWh/day on average) where a typical house without a solar system exports none. So please understand that the results presented here are specific to the Greeny Flat and would not apply to any one else’s house.

In the following chart I’ve listed each of the NSW electricity providers in order of the their ranking in The Green Electricity Guide along with the rates they charge per kWh (kilowatt hour), their daily supply charges, any discounts they offer, solar feed in tariffs (FIT), and other charges. I have only included the information that was relevant to the Greeny Flat otherwise this spreadsheet would have been enormous and taken a year to complete. For example I have not included the different rate you might pay for the first 7000kWh/year with one company versus the rate they charge for the remainder because we will never import any where near 7000kWh/year. All of this information has been distilled down to a Net Cost/Day based on our average import and export per day over the previous two quarters (i.e. Import = 3.31kWh/day and Export = 11.26kWh/day). And here is what I ended up with… (if this is too hard to read you can download the pdf version by clicking here)

Green Power Comparison Chart

I have put a green box around the Net Cost per Day column where you can see that the results range from a high of 200.23c/day with Power Direct down to 51.56c/day with Click Energy. Unfortunately, and for some inexplicable reason, Click Energy does not offer Green Power to their solar customers (ones with solar panels on their roof). I would have thought that the solar customers would be the first to want Green Power but with Click we can’t get it. However they do offer a 10c/kWh Feedin Tariff (FIT) which is the best of the lot and is especially beneficial to us because we export so much more energy than we import. Some of the companies don’t offer any FIT and so their net cost to us was much higher. Power Direct was the highest because, although they do offer a Feedin Tariff of 7.7c/kWh they calculate the price for Green Power based on an average house’s usage. Because we use so little this meant that the cost for us worked out to 67.62c/kWh… more than double any of the others.

Click Energy also received a ringing endorsement from The Green Electricity Guide which says it ‘is the outstanding option for those with solar panels on their roof’. It is a pity that they don’t offer Green Power to people with solar panels but there would be a way around that for us by using the ATA’s (Alternative Technology Association) Community Climate Chest. This is an alternative way of buying Green Power (as well as carbon offsets) without paying more to your electricity retailer. Their website offers various options for calculating and selecting the amount of Green Power you would like to buy and/or carbon emissions that you would like to offset. I ran the calculations based on our consumption at the Greeny Flat and found that it would cost us $58/year (or 15.89c/day) to buy 100% certified Green Power. When I added this to the Click Energy rate we ended up with 71.43c/day which is still significantly less than the 89.69c/day we are currently paying AGL for Green Power.

At this point I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. When I started looking into Green Power I felt like I had stepped into a minefield, but I had found a way to navigate through it and felt like a clear path had presented itself. So I was about to sign up with Click Energy and the Community Climate Chest when I got to thinking more about what exactly I was signing up for. As the Community Climate Chest  website puts it; ‘In the case of GreenPower, your money is used to pay Australian renewable energy generators to feed power into the national grid to replace the energy that you take out.’ For anyone who doesn’t have a solar power system or who imports more electricity from the grid than they export to the grid this is a beneficial scenario. The money they pay for Green Power will go towards building renewable energy infrastructure, but they’re not actually buying electrons that were generated in a renewable way. They’re simply requesting that an equivalent amount of renewable energy be put into the grid to match the amount of energy they take out of the grid.

It finally dawned on me that, at the Greeny Flat, we are already putting more than three times as much renewable energy into the grid as we are taking out. In other words we have created our own Green Power system right here and we don’t need to pay someone else to do it.

So I will probably be switching over to Click Energy because they seem to be much more responsible than AGL and their rates are better. I will probably also sign up to the Community Climate Chest because I think it’s a good idea and I like to support the ATA. I will definitely sleep better at night knowing that we already have our own energy positive Green Power system operating every day here at the Greeny Flat so anything else we do is simply to support the cause.

For anyone reading this who does not produce more energy than they consume, I would recommend that you consider switching to 100% Green Power. The Abbott Government has chosen to support the coal industry at the expense of the Renewable Energy Industry despite the overwhelming evidence that this is an insane policy. So it is up to us electricity consumers to find ways to promote renewable energy. Buying Green Power is a good way to do this but be warned… the retailers do not make it easy to compare one company’s rates with another’s. Perhaps the simplest and most beneficial thing to do it to find a standard plan that you can afford from a company that you are comfortable with then use the Community Climate Chest to buy Green Power and offset your carbon emissions. I think that’s what I’ll be doing next week.

2 comments to Jan 18, 2015: Switching to Green Power

  • Peter

    Hi Andy, I’ve been enjoying reading about your Greeny Flat over the last few months. Thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge. This article got me thinking about how to compare electricity providers….. The Greenpeace claim that AGL are the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide may be true because they are the biggest producers of electricity… which should be kind of obvious (are they the biggest? I don’t know). EG. If the State produced all the electricity, then the State would be the biggest producer of carbon dioxide. A better way to compare providers would be to look at their efficiency:- how much carbon dioxide per unit of electricity produced. So, I don’t know if you should feel too bad about using AGL- they may just happen to have a large market share, they may be really efficient, I don’t know… I just think the comparison should be about efficiency, not size. The overall size is determined by all of us consumers- most of that will be coal-fired: the best provider will be one that can provide the most electricity for the least amount of carbon at a price you are willing to pay. So it is, as you say a ‘can of worms’.

    On another topic, can I ask about this?: “we import a very small amount of energy from the grid (3.31kWh/day on average) compared to a typical house with two people in our area (about 15kWh/day according to our AGL bills). We also export a lot of energy to the grid (11.26kWh/day on average)” Do you have ‘gross metering’ or ‘nett metering’ and would this affect when you use your appliances?

    Kind regards,

    • admin

      Peter, thanks for your comments. You’re quite right that AGL may be the biggest emitters simply by virtue of the fact that they are the biggest suppliers. On the other hand, the Greenpeace website lists a number of other criteria and AGL rates well on some but poorly on others compared to, say, Diamond Energy which rates highly on almost all of the Greenpeace criteria. Getting back to emissions I agree that it would be nice to be able to compare the efficiency of the various suppliers. Please let me know if you have any luck finding that information.

      To answer your other question, we are on net-metering and yes, it does affect when we use electricity. In general, the more we can use electricity during the day when the sun is shining and the more we can limit our use when the sun isn’t shining, the lower our bills will be. But since our last bill for the summer quarter was only $41 we don’t worry too much about it.

      Regards, Andy

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