After last weeks post on my electricity audit, I had a few people asking me how they can reduce their energy consumption at home. This post is about GreenPower, how to choose a green energy provider and reducing power usage at home.
First of all, what is GreenPower?
Most retailers offer GreenPower, an accredited voluntary government program that, according to their website, allows electricity providers to purchase renewable energy on our behalf. GreenPower ensures the electricity we buy from our providers meets strict environmental standards and it goes toward developing new renewable energy projects. All GreenPower must be purchased from generators built after 1997 to ensure our purchases contributes to new infrastructure.
But when you buy GreenPower from your supplier you’re not actually getting renewable power in your home. What really happens is, your supplier invests money on your behalf into renewable energy. Whether they invest it into their own renewable energy infrastructure or projects owned by other companies depends on each retailer. The Green Electricity Guide words it perfectly:
“The electricity coming down the wire into your house is the same as everyone else’s on your street. However, retailers can choose who and where they buy electricity from.”
What happens when we buy green energy from power companies. This diagram took me waaaaay longer than it should have but who doesn’t love a Paint session!
So unfortunately, by buying green electricity this doesn’t mean we can use more and make a tropical paradise in winter, wearing stubby shorts, a singlet and thongs with the heater blaring. All we’re doing is adding more energy to the grid sourced from renewables, which is distributed out to everyone.
Since buying GreenPower can seem a little detached and confusing, I wanted to find out exactly where my voting dollar was going. I wanted to know which companies own renewable assets and which gain most of their profit from dirty brown coal stations. The power industry is rife with greenwashers, pretending to care about the environment, when really their stance on sustainability is meagre and their investment in renewables is miniscule. Choosing a company that genuinely believes in renewables and the health of the environment is crucial to my decision.
I was going to do all this research on myself, but instead found The Green Electricity Guide , where a bunch of researchers much smarter than me have done all the hard work for me! They rank electricity companies out of 5 stars based on a set of criteria including:
- Emissions – the emission intensity of the power stations they own.
- Decarbonisation – support shown for decarbonising the energy sector (reducing emissions for each unit of electricity generated), in accordance with Paris climate change agreement and the Renewable Energy Target (RET).
- Carbon offsets – the cost of GreenPower to customers, what % GreenPower is of total sales and if they support carbon off-sets for their non-renewable energy generation.
- Renewables – support for local and renewable energy. Whether they offer the same discounts to solar customers and if they have tariffs that support community energy groups/projects or the export of solar battery energy.
- Fossil fuels – position, policy and investment towards fossil fuels including Coal Seam Gas (CSG), coal and their actions taken to move the market away from fossil fuels.
- Energy efficiency – whether they offer customers information on energy-saving tips, products and services.
- Transparency – Do they offer a sustainability report and goals. Have they been caught out for greenwashing or do they show compassion for the health of the environment and people.
So how did they stack up?
Our house purchases from Powershop, here’s what they say about them:
Melbourne-based Australian retail arm of New Zealand-based public company Meridian Energy. In Australia, Meridian owns two wind farms and has announced the acquisition of several hydro power plants in NSW. It also has large contracts to buy power from solar and wind farms in Victoria and NSW. Powershop currently supplies over 100,000 customers in Victoria, NSW and South-East Queensland and has developed innovative ways to market to consumers and to communicate with them. They own only renewable assets, with almost zero emissions intensity. and does not have contracts to purchase fossil fuels.
So, as far as I can see, by purchasing from Powershop, I am voting for a renewable energy market. They appear to have the environment’s best interests at heart and care about a sustainable future. There are arguments against purchasing GreenPower due to its ambiguous nature and cost/benefit analysis. Some argue methods such as retrofitting your house with solar, reducing your energy consumption and putting pressure on governments to have higher renewable targets are more direct ways of reducing electricity emissions. I highly recommend jumping on the website to have a look at how your power company stacks up, so even if you don’t want to pay the premium for GreenPower at least you can choose a company that only invests in renewable energy or has high renewable energy targets.
Many of you have been asking how to reduce your power bills, so I rang the Green Electricity Guide’s top nine Victorian retailers to suss out their most popular deals* (it was top 10 but Power Direct were a pain in the arse to deal with over the phone so I culled them from the list) and have ranked them in order of Green Electricity Guide stars, cheapest energy price and cheapest GreenPower price. For the purpose of this comparison I asked each retailer for the prices of their most popular plan. The discounts varied from each retailer, some included the supply charge and GreenPower, some didn’t. Momentum and Lumo both own hydro power stations so do not offer GreenPower. Both Snowy (Lumo) and Tasmanian hydro (Momentum) were built before 1997 and are therefore not eligible to receive GreenPower accreditation.
*These prices were current as of 18th April 2018 and are based on electricity supplier CitiPower. Prices may vary and you might be entitled to further discounts depending on your situation and needs.
Download here: Green Electricity Guide Ratings
Last but most certainly not least, I have compiled a more comprehensive list on power saving measures you can apply to your home. Team that with a competitive retailer who has a decent star rating, you should be on your way to reducing your energy emissions (mother nature thanks you) and reducing the cost of your bills (high-5 from your wallet). This list is pretty overwhelming so I suggest taking five, or if you’re feeling really adventurous ten points and applying them to your household. See if it makes a difference to your next bill – keep in mind we’re heading into winter where we tend to use more electricity (heaters and dryers are guzzlers of energy and we tend to spend more time indoors). I’ve chosen seven points to work on that I’ve highlighted in orange.
How we use electricity in the home. Source: South Australian Government.
If you own your home
- Install solar panels – retailers pay you a tariff for adding more power to the grid plus you’re generating your own renewable energy woo!
- Heat the human not the house – put on layers, slippers and blankets. It’s perfectly acceptable to wear scarves inside.
- Keep doors, windows and curtains closed to retain heat.
- Only heat the room/s you are using.
- If you have ducted heating that isn’t zoned (you end up heating more rooms than necessary) consider using gas space heaters or reverse-cycle air conditioners (heat pumps) in the rooms you do use as these are cheaper to run.
- Keeps the doors to each heated room closed.
- Keep the thermostat at 21 degrees or lower – each degree higher can add up to 10% running cost.
- Turn off all heaters at night, use an extra doona/blanket or a heat pack/hot water bottle instead. You’ll feel better for it in the morning I promise!
- Door snakes are so daggy they’re now cool.
- Caulk draughty windows.
- Add a rug to timber and tile floors – this also feel nice on your feet and looks pretty.
- According to the Australian Government Your Energy Savings website, the most efficient electric heaters are reverse-cycle air conditioners (or heat pumps), while electric in-slab floor heating often has the highest greenhouse gas emissions and can be the most expensive to run. Portable electric heaters are also inefficient and expensive to run.
- Make sure your heaters are running efficiently, clean the filters and check the manual.
If you own your home…
- Insulate walls, floors and ceilings.
- Double glaze windows.
Heat pack and hotwater bottle, if you don’t have one pets make a great hot water bottle, a family of slippers.
- Keep doors and windows closed on hot days and open when the temperature drops (night).
- Keep the sun out during the hottest part of the day with shades and even curtains if appropriate.
- Draught proof your home.
- Keep the thermostat above 24 degrees – each degree lower can add up to 10% running cost.
- Instead of running the air conditioner, try a cool face towel, ice cubes or a spray bottle of ice water.
- Use a fan instead of air conditioning. Only use air conditioners if it’s stinking hot and you just can’t bear it anymore, like when your knees are sweating, then you know it’s hot! According to Save Energy Save Money air conditioners can be as much as 4.5 times more expensive to run.
If you own your home…
- Install ceiling fans.
- Double glaze windows.
- Wash your clothes in cold water and wait until the load is full.
- Take shorter showers and make sure you have a water efficient shower head (you can even do this in a rental) – this also save water so win win!
- Use the shower instead of the bath – saves these for a treat.
- According to a study by Bonn University in Germany, as a general rule, modern dishwashers are more energy-efficient than hand washing (hooray!), but you must wait until the dishwasher is full before running a cycle.
If you own your home…
- Install a solar water heater.
- Install a water/energy-efficient dishwasher.
My shower timer.
- Ditch the clothes dryer for line drying. Clothes dryers guzzle energy like a…
- Turn off appliances when you’re not using them, such as the t.v or stereo (by stereo I mean tablet or phone that plays Spotify just to clarify).
- Turn off appliances at the switch so they are not using stand-by power including washing machine, microwave, t.v and computer.
- Unplug chargers when not charging.
- When using the kettle only boil the amount of water you require.
- When you need to purchase new appliances check for energy efficiency.
- Make sure the seals on your fridge are intact and working.
- While you’re at it check your oven too.
- Ask yourself if you really need that second fridge or can you condense it into one? If you do, can you keep it unplugged and just use it when required, e.g. if it’s a drinks fridge, only have it running when you know you’ll be entertaining.
- On the other hand, make sure your fridge isn’t too full and that you’re not cooling food that doesn’t need it and there is enough room for the air to flow. Check out this post on Cnet of 25 foods you don’t need to refrigerate. Also include on the list eggs and bread, the supermarket don’t store them in the fridge so why should we?!
- Set the fridge temperature to 3 to 5 degrees C and your freezer to -15 to -18 degrees C.
- Jobs that you normally complete with an electric gadget, can you do via elbow grease? E.g. electric beaters vs. hand beater, hand chopping versus food processor.
- Use the microwave instead of the oven or cook top where possible, according to the South Australian Government microwaves use up to 75% less power versus an oven.
- And the toaster instead of the grill.
- Keep lids on pots when cooking on the stove.
Information on individual appliances…
You can find more specific information on running costs of your appliances at:
Switching off at the point, air drying clothes and getting an arms workout using hand-held beaters.
- Use energy-efficient globes (LED’s).
- Turn off lights when you’re not in the room.
- Utilise natural light as much as possible… our house is dark and I tend to walk around in a state of twilight most of the time – added bonus – I don’t see my grey hairs or blemished skin when it’s half dark all the time!
- Use solar-powered lights in your garden.
An energy efficient gobe.
If you own your home…
- Install LED lights instead of incandescent. Check the diagram below to see how much energy your lighting uses.
Energy usage per globe type. Source: South Australian Government.