Static consumers slow drive to green power

Sam Dunn finds we're reluctant to switch electricity supplier and don't even consider clean energy. But savings are blowing in the wind
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The Independent Online

Environmental drives to convince consumers to buy "green" power are being undermined because most of us are more interested in saving money on our electricity bills.

Environmental drives to convince consumers to buy "green" power are being undermined because most of us are more interested in saving money on our electricity bills.

With all the negative publicity over rising fuel bills, some consumers are switching to a cheaper deal, but they are not even considering green energy.

However, while fuel supplied by initiatives such as solar power and wind farms costs more, that doesn't mean you will pay higher bills. If you have never changed supplier, you will be paying over the odds at the moment. So a move to clean electricity can prove cheaper as well as benefiting the environment.

"If you are with a supplier you've had for many years and you have yet to switch, then going green will be cheaper than your current arrangement," says Tom Burgess, spokesman for Simply Energy, a website that helps you switch provider.

If you have already changed supplier in a bid to curb your bills, you might have to pay more, he admits. "However, consumers need to be aware that they are making a difference. Unfortunately, there's no mass-marketing campaign to dispel confusion about how renewable energy works."

In September last year, Simply Energy started setting up deals for customers that would let them switch to green electricity from UK suppliers. So far, though, only 2.5 per cent of its customers have chosen to go down this route. This lack of enthusiasm is reflected in the low take-up of green electricity in households across the country.

Campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) estimates that between 70,000 and 90,000 homes use environmentally friendly fuel - barely 4 per cent of the total.

However, this situation could change as the Government wants all power companies to supply 10 per cent of their energy from green sources by 2015. FoE reckons that some 2.2 million homes need to be buying green power to achieve these targets.

Progress, though, will not be easy when so many people put price before anything else when switching supplier. And green electricity still tends to cost more money.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) offers green energy: it has 13,600 electricity customers, paying about £8 more each year than they would if they had opted for environmentally unfriendly fuel.

According to uswitch.com, a website that lets you compare energy costs, you should expect to pay an extra 50p a week for green electricity. That said, prices vary as tariffs depend on how close you are to your regional supplier.

The RSPB sits near the top of a list of clean energy suppliers drawn up by FoE. But top of the list is Good Energy, formerly Unit-e, followed by Ecotricity.

It isn't just small firms that offer green tariffs. For example, Npower is marketing Juice - electricity generated from the North Hoyle offshore wind farm in Wales. For every unit of electricity you use, the farm generates another one, which is fed into the National Grid.

Although switching supplier is easier than ever, estimates from industry regulator Ofgem suggest that only a third of us have done so since the energy market was deregulated in 1998. Yet Which? magazine calculates that we can save an average of £100 each year.

Many of us suffer from inertia, preferring to stay with our supplier to avoid administrative hassle, and unsure how to make cost comparisons.

The best way to check prices is to go online. Look at all the suppliers in your area before making your choice. Once you've applied to switch supplier, the transition should take between 28 and 45 days.

Try www.uswitch.com and www.unravelit.com, while the Energy Saving Trust's site (www.est.org.uk) and FoE's site (www.foe.co.uk) will guide you through different types of green power.

www.energywatch.org.uk will help if you have a complaint about your supplier.

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