How To Run Your House On Renewable Energy

A guide to switching to a 100% renewable-energy tariff

"Renewable" by Sheila Sund on Flickr, shared via Attribution 2.0 Generic

Every day we hear another reason why the human race isn't doing enough to keep global heating under control. It's exasperating to understand what one can do individually to combat the problem, so I thought I'd share one action that you can take to make a real difference: change your electricity provider to one that provides only renewable electricity. This a pretty straight-forward process nowadays and can have a significant effect on not only your own carbon footprint, but also the carbon footprint of your entire country. Instead of burning gas or coal to create the electricity that powers your home, you'll be powering your home from natural sources like sun, wind, and water.

I know that some people reading this may not directly control who provides their electricity, like students living in school halls or in shared accommodation, or kids who live with their parents. Even without being the bill-payer, you can speak with the person or group responsible for your accommodation's power and ask them to change it for you. Utilities (like electricity providers) are usually not the most interesting thing in peoples' mind (yay, bills!), but if you take an interest and explain the whole "climate emergency" concept to them, they may do the 20 minutes of online form-filling required to switch providers for you. It's really quite easy now.

How does it work? What's an electricity provider?

Most countries have what's called a "national energy grid" which is the common infrastructure that carries electricity and gas across the entire country. This is all the cables, pipes, converters, monitoring stations, etc that keep our lights and heaters on every day. Even though multiple different people generate power for the grid and consume energy from the grid, they're all connected to the one grid. However, people don't pump energy into the grid for free, someone needs to buy it; that's where energy providers come in. An energy generator (like a company that builds a wind farm) generates energy and sells the energy it produces "wholesale" to providers, who then sell it to us consumers. The providers make sure they are buying enough energy to supply all their customers with power 24/7 and take care of their connection to the grid instead of every customer buying directly from multiple energy generators and maintaining their own grid connections. There are many ways in which electricity is generated: gas-fired boilers, coal-power plants, solar farms, biomass boilers, wind turbine farms (on- and off-shore), nuclear power stations, and pumped storage/hydropower (dams). The providers buy power from some or all of these generators and roll it up into a simple "$X per month"* tariff. (* = Not all tariffs are fixed-rate, some fluctuate or are cheaper at night. More on this later.)

So when I say you should switch your energy provider, I mean you should buy your electricity from a provider who buys their energy from only renewable energy projects like solar-panel farms, wind turbine farms, and hydropower. Once you've switched to a renewable energy provider, when you charge your smartphone or keep your food refrigerated, the energy that you use won't be adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere or contributing to global heating. Nice!

How can I switch?

Switching electricity providers is a very straight-forward process, especially now. The benefit of switching to a renewables-only provider is that they're generally much younger companies than their coal- and gas-loving competitors, and they put customer service and ease-of-use at the center of their business (along with a respect for the planet & its inhabitants). This means you can usually switch online in a few minutes just by giving your address and payment details, and they take care of the rest; you don't even have to contact your old energy supplier or know who they are. All of the providers I recommend below do this.

Here are the providers that I recommend in the United Kingdom because this is where I currently live and where I have researched the providers. I'd like to help people in other countries choose better providers as well, so if you had a recommended provider for your country please let me know!

% Renewable Electricity % Green Gas Gas Offset? "About Us" page "Get a Quote" page
OVO Energy 50-100% 0-15% Available About OVO Quote
Bulb 100% 10% Yes About Bulb Quote
Octopus Energy 100% Not Guaranteed Available About Octopus Quote

Bulb is the simplest energy provider because it offers only a single fixed-price energy tariff, where 100% of it's electricity comes from renewable sources, 10% of its gas comes from green gas, and the remaining percentage of the gas it supplies is carbon-offset.

You can choose from multiple different tariffs from OVO and Octopus. The greenest option for OVO requires you to get the "Green Gas" and "Green Electricity" add-ons, and the greenest option for Octopus is the "Super Green Octopus" tariff.

What do these terms mean?

  • % Renewable Electricity: is the percent of renewable energy supplied by the provider. Bulb and Octopus only provide electricity from sun, wind, and water, while OVO's default tariff provides 50% renewable electricity and you can buy the "Green Electricity" add-on to get 100% renewable electricity.
  • % Green Gas: green gas (a.k.a. biomethane) is normal gas for your central heating/boiler that has been produced by the natural decomposition of organic material such as food and farm waste instead of fossil fuels. OVO offers the highest percentage of green gas that I've found so far, at 15%, when you buy the "Green Gas" add-on (otherwise it's not guaranteed). Bulb offers 10% green gas, and Octopus doesn't mention if they buy green gas.
  • Gas Offset: all three providers offer the possibility to offset the carbon footprint of your gas consumption (for central heating/boilers) by, for example, planting trees. Only Bulb offers it by default.

All of the providers have similar values and are all a good choice. I personally chose OVO Energy because their Green Gas add-on was the most compelling: 15% green gas and planting trees to offset the carbon emissions of the rest. Bulb also offers 10% green gas and to carbon offset the rest, and Octopus offers to carbon-offset the gas you consume but doesn't offer any green gas. If you go with OVO make sure you're getting on the right tariff, as they do not offer 100% renewable energy by default. I recommend you click through the "quote" link above and get a estimated price for each of the three companies to see which offer is the best for your circumstances.

I've ran some electricity+gas quotes for my 2-bedroom flat with "low" energy use and received the following quotes:

OVO Bulb Octopus
Quoted price per month £60
(with Green Gas + Electricty add-ons)
£66 £59
(on Super Green Octopus)

The price isn't too different between the three. Each of the providers also provides other interesting tariffs and values that might interest people with specific needs. For example:

  • Octopus Energy offers the "Octopus Go" tariff which provides ultra-low-cost electricity for a few hours during the night, which is perfect for charging your electric car even cheaper than you already are. Electric cars cost around 30% to drive per mile compared to a diesel or petrol car, so if you charge during the night then you'll save even more.
  • Bulb only buys from independent energy suppliers and they only offer the one tariff, meaning they're the easiest to start with
  • OVO Energy gives you 3-5% "interest" on your money if you overpay with your direct debit

I find it incredible that these companies exist and I hope that by sharing them, others can take control of their own carbon footprint as well. If customers signal that they're tired of the "status quo" where we are sold products that are bad for the planet, we can shape entire industries for the better. Thanks for reading!