Sustainable Electricity Guide

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It seems that energy companies have caught on to public demand for more sustainable products, marketing their plans as ‘green’ at every possible turn. While there are industry bodies regulating the way that retailers advertise their eco-friendly initiatives, there’s still a fair amount to be done to clear up the confusion around what you, the consumer, is actually getting when you choose a ‘green’ plan.

That’s where we come in. We’re helping to demystify the world of sustainable energy, so you can make the most responsible choices available to you. Let’s begin.

What is sustainable electricity?

Sustainable energy is generally thought to be solar, wind and hydro. There are several other energy-generating methods, such as biomass and wave power that are also considered to be renewable. To keep it simple, in order to be sustainable, the energy generated needs to come from an inexhaustible resource, with the aim to create less environmental damage via carbon emissions.

Sustainable electricity in Australia

In Australia, we have a Renewable Energy Target (RET). Large-scale sustainable energy projects, such as wind and solar farms, are expected to produce at least 33,000 gigawatt hours of renewable power a year until 2030.

This is supported by the sale of large-scale generation certificates (LCGs) to electricity retailers. For every gigawatt hour of renewable energy added to the grid, a LCG is created, which your power provider may purchase to cover its carbon-offset obligations. If a retailer takes part in the GreenPower scheme, it must review how much electricity its GreenPower customers have used and surrender the equivalent amount of LCGs to the Clean Energy Regulator. That way, customers, through their power plans, can support the continuation renewable energy projects.

In 2019, the Clean Energy Council recorded that 24% of Australia’s energy mix was made up of renewables, with most of that attributed to wind power. Hydro comes next, followed by small-scale solar (solar panels).

graphs solar australia

Source: Clean Energy Council

What are the most sustainable energy plans in Australia?

There’s one key bit of information you must know before you commit to paying for a green plan: you cannot have renewable energy in your house, unless you’re generating it yourself through solar panels or other small-scale renewable projects. Why? Because the electricity you use all comes from the grid, which at any given time is made up from a mix of power sources, with coal generally dominating. You may be sure you’ve seen plans that are marketed as providing green power, and you could have, but the reality is the words don’t have the most literal translation.

So, if you can’t purchase renewable energy, what can you do? Here are your options:

  • Choose plans with carbon offsets and GreenPower
  • Support a company that supports renewable energy
  • Reduce your household’s energy usage

Ideally, you’ll try to tick all these boxes, if that’s within your financial and living means. Here’s a step by step breakdown of what you can do to support renewable energy if solar installation isn’t available to you:

1. Add GreenPower to your tariff

GreenPower is a scheme run by the government that supports the renewable energy industry. When you purchase GreenPower, you ensure that an amount of Australian-produced renewable energy, equivalent to your own yearly power usage, is added to the power grid on your behalf. Your provider is responsible for managing its GreenPower commitments, though it’s audited by the government program to make sure it’s fulfilling its obligations.

If you’re interested in directly supporting renewable energy without installing your own solar panels, getting GreenPower is the way to go. But how do you do this?

The good news is most popular energy companies offer the option of GreenPower, including:

The bad news is GreenPower doesn’t come free, however most providers offer options for how much GreenPower you can add, so if you can’t afford to go the full 100%, you may be able to add anywhere between 10% and 75%. GreenPower costs vary, but you can expect to pay between a few cents a day to a few dollars, depending on your provider and GreenPower amount.

GreenPower Plans

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have a GreenPower option and include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have a GreenPower option and include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have a GreenPower option and include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have a GreenPower option and include a link to the retailer’s website for further details.  These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

2. Look out for carbon offset initiatives

Much like the GreenPower scheme, carbon neutral programs support sustainability initiatives. This time, it’s through a range of emissions reduction projects, which can be anything from supporting the development of renewable energy to tree planting. Your energy retailer purchases emission reduction certificates that are equivalent to the emissions from its customers’ energy usage.

With most carbon offset initiatives, there’s no guarantee that your support is going back into Australia, but seeing as a lot of retailers offer this for free, there’s really nothing to lose by opting in. Here’s a list of providers in Australia that have carbon neutral power either by default, or as an optional extra:

  • AGL
  • DC Power Co
  • EnergyAustralia
  • Energy Locals
  • Enova Energy
  • Nectr
  • Origin Energy
  • OVO Energy
  • Powershop

3. Support a company that supports renewable energy

This is where it gets tricky. While we’re not necessarily experts on all things green, the good folk at Greenpeace have done the work for us with its Green Electricity Guide. The only downside is that it was last updated in 2018, and since then new companies and old have really stepped up their game, sustainability-wise.

greenpeace electricity guide

Greenpeace has investigated Australia’s energy companies with things like ownership of renewable assets and public position against fossil fuels in mind. The stronger the support of green energy, the higher the score the energy provider received. Here are the top 10 greenest electricity companies according to the not for profit, as of 2018:

  1. Powershop
  2. Diamond Energy
  3. Energy Locals
  4. Enova Energy
  5. AGL
  6. Origin
  7. Momentum Energy
  8. Red Energy
  9. EnergyAustralia
  10. Lumo

For more information as to what exactly some of these companies are doing to earn their place, visit our Greenest Energy Companies guide.

4. Reduce your power consumption

This is both the simplest and the hardest step, because it requires regular thoughtfulness and action. If you’re interested in sustainable energy practices, the good news is that there are a few habits you can change around your home that make a big difference.

Tips to reduce your carbon footprint:

  • Purchase energy efficient appliances
  • Swap out old incandescent light bulbs to LEDs
  • Limit usage of the air con and heaters
  • Opt for air drying clothes where possible
  • Switch off lights when you leave the room
  • Insulate your home

Should we care about sustainable electricity?

There are always going to be arguments for and against moving towards a more renewable energy mix, not to mention what role the individual plays in creating and maintaining a more sustainable landscape. It’s likely you’ve read somewhere that most of the world’s sustainability problems stem from a few large corporations that refuse to change how they operate and what they support, rather than a regular Joe who refuses to use a bamboo toothbrush, and there’s validity in that. However, since there’s so much out of your individual control, it may seem counterintuitive to give up on what you can control, too.

At the end of the day, your personal circumstances will weigh heaviest on what changes you make to live more sustainably, and electricity is no exception.

Image credit: Fotoldee/shutterstock.com

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