A Very Green Dilemma…
People often tell me that they care about the environment, and that they would happily switch to renewable energy sources if they could. What these people don’t realise is that there is an option actually already out there for them:
Ecotricity claims to be Britain’s first ever green energy company. Founded in 1996 by Dale Vince, the organisation provides electricity and gas to 67, 974 customers (as of 25/11/2012) through its 53 windmills and one solar farm (Ecotricity, 2012). Ecotricity have no shareholders or investors and therefore have no financial obligations to meet after their costs have been paid. The company use this opportunity to pump all their profits into developing, enhancing and extending their green energy initatives.
First things first – is the energy they supply totally green?
No, but they do appear to be totally honest.
Let’s use the example of electricity. Ecotricity’s electricity is sourced from its own windmills but is, “topped up with ‘brown’ electricity” which is bought from the wholesale market (Ecotricity, 2012). Ecotricity say the amount of brown electricity reduces each year as they build more of their own green (This is Money, 2012). The graph below depicts how much green and brown electricity makes up Ecotricity’s electricity. Green electricity means it comes from renewable sources such as the wind, sun or sea whereas brown electricity means it comes from non-renewable sources such as coal, nuclear or gas.
As you can see, Ecotricity currently provide electricity where 64.3% of it is produced from renewable sources (Ecotricity, 2012). This is very impressive, especially when you bear in mind that only 9.6% of the average UK electricity is made up of green electricity (DECC, 2012). You can also see from the graph that they want 70% of their electricity to be produced by renewable sources by 2013.
However, what’s really worth noting is that because of their non-profit business model, when more and more people switch to Ecotricity the company will have more money to invest in their green initiatives which will allow them to eventually provide fully green energy.
Ecotricity are not only the leading supplier of renewable energy in the United Kingdom, they are also highly acclaimed for their customer service. Earlier this year (2012), the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets found that Ecotricity received the least complaints out of all British energy providers. The worst offender was British Gas, followed closely by nPower then EDF.
Forest Green Rovers
In 2010 Ecotricity founder, Dale Vince, became the Chairman of the Gloucestershire based football club, Forest Green Rovers (BBC Sport, 2012). Vince became involved with the club at a time when they were in financial difficulty and he became the majority shareholder in order to give the club the monetary backing it needed to survive (ibid). Since then Vince has set out the aim of making Forest Green Rovers the first ever truly sustainable football club (Forest Green Rovers, 2012).
Vince and Ecotricity are steadily working towards this ambition by introducing some unique initatives at the club. For example, Forest Green Rovers now treat the pitch using cow manure; this has resulted in the club now playing on the world’s first ever organic football pitch (BBC Sport, 2012).
Ecotricity have also installed 180 solar panels at the stadium which generate 10% of the total electricity used there. Finally, Vince has placed a red meat ban on all of his Forest Green players as well as stopping any red meat products being sold at the game (ibid).
The ‘Nemesis’ is an electric car designed and built by Ecotricity (pictured below). The Nemesis is powered entirely by electricity produced by the wind and can reach speeds of 151mph (which is incidentally the UK electric car land-speed record) (Ecotricity, 2012).
The car took two years to build and was designed to “smash the stereotype of electric cars”. I don’t know about you but I think they have done a pretty good job!
So if they provide the cleanest energy, have the best customer service and run some other cool green projects why doesn’t everyone use them?
One word – cost.
In a study conducted by financial website This is Money (2012), the average Ecotricity customer on their New Energy Plus with Green Gas plan would pay £1,325 per year. This is £271 more than the cheapest option, First Utility’s iSave v2, which costs just £1,054 per year.
This presents energy customers with a dilemma…
Do they get the cheapest option and carry on using primarily nonrenewable energy sources or do they pay more and use a greener energy source?
Personally, I believe in the power of economics. If the people who understand the importance of using renewable energy sources and have the financial security to be able to afford an extra £271 a year were to switch to Ecotricity, there would be two main benefits:
Firstly, Ecotricity would have more revenue to be able to invest in their green initiatives. This would mean that they could eventually offer entirely green electricity and gas.
Secondly, if a large number of people were to switch to Ecotricity, the existing energy companies such as EDF would lose custom. In an attempt to regain these leaving customers, these companies would be forced to increase the percentage of renewable sources that makes up their energy.
I do not believe that Ecotricity should be the only company to offer a green product and have a monopoly in this industry. My hope is that Ecotricity can be used as a platform for environmentally conscious consumers to show the large energy companies how much renewable energy means to them. If the big energy companies start losing money because people prefer to buy a greener product, they will be forced to offer a greener product themselves. It is at this point that renewable energy will become much more affordable because as the amount of competition goes up the price goes down (this happens because companies who offer identical products to their rivals tend to try and attract customers by offering the lowest price). Then, if all goes to plan, green energy will become much more accessible for every single person living in Britain.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading.