For the last two decades, there has been a significant push toward green energy as a means of reducing dependence on fossil fuels and protecting the environment. It can be argued that the energy sector has made significant gains in green energy, especially in the last few years. Nevertheless, not all might be as rosy as it seems.
There continues to be persistent problems within the realm of green energy policy and its application in the real world. Those problems are preventing the goal of green energy from moving forward as fast as some would like. A few of them may even threaten the goal of achieving 100% green energy in the UK.
Green Energy Basics
In the simplest terms possible, the concept of green energy is to provide electrical power and heating using fuel sources that are renewable. Examples of renewable sources include:
Currently the world's energy needs are met largely by non-renewable sources like oil, gas, and coal. By replacing these consumable fuels with renewable alternatives, we reduce environmental emissions and put in place energy sources that should continue in perpetuity.
On a national level, countries like the UK, France, Spain, and the U.S. are looking for ways to generate massive amounts of electricity without having to burn fossil fuels. The goal has been daunting, to say the least. At the consumer level, the strategy has been to encourage reduced power consumption and microgeneration among home and business owners.
Success of Green Energy Initiatives
The good news in green energy is the fact that the industry has enjoyed a number of significant successes over the last decade. Most recently, the Guardian reported in September 2012 that UK production of electricity from renewable sources was up 42% from the previous year. That's a pretty impressive jump in one year.
In terms of investments in renewable energy, that's up as well. World governments are pumping untold amounts of money into green energy along with a limited amount of private equity, funding start-ups and helping existing companies expand. Statistics from various news sources shows government spending for green energy has never been higher. Yet there is a downside.
Failures of Green Energy Initiatives
One of the most persistent failures of the green energy movement lies squarely at the feet of the government. Whether we like it or not, the profit motive is the only thing that will entice companies to pursue green energy on a long-term basis. No amount of political discussion or philosophical argument will change that. Furthermore, to expect the government to fund green energy initiatives completely, knowing that all of that funding ultimately comes from taxpayers, is foolish.
As an example of the point, the Guardian reported -- just a week after their story about increased green energy output -- on two UK companies on the brink of closure due to a lack of funding. Their lack of funding is the result of investors not willing to pump more money into an industry offering so little financial return.
That story is the same all over the world. Nearly half a dozen multi-million dollar U.S. companies funded by President Obama's stimulus package four years ago have since gone bankrupt and closed. The reasons for the failures are the same no matter what country you are talking about: government regulation, excessive taxation, and labour union interference.
If the goal of 100% green energy is ever to be achieved, world governments must swallow their pride, set aside their own lust for power and money, and get out of the way. If anyone can make green energy work, it is the countless number of dedicated workers and business owners that drive national economies.
The other troubling aspect to green energy is the concept of efficiency. There is no way around the fact that a wind farm does not produce the same kind of output as a coal or gas fired power plant. Photovoltaic solar panels also suffer from efficiency issues. They are capable of producing electricity on a small scale, but to power entire neighbourhoods is nearly impossible, let alone cities.
For green energy to succeed, companies need to be able to pursue higher capacity and more efficient technologies. That takes both funding and regulatory freedom. If the efficiency issues can be overcome, more power will be produced and the cost of renewables will come down.
Green Energy at Home
Now that we've talked about green energy on a grand scale, let's bring it home to the average UK household. It is possible for individual homeowners and renters to do their part for green energy simply by changing the way they conduct themselves day-to-day. For starters, reducing energy consumption will go a long way toward making sure green energy initiatives can better meet the demand.
Homeowners can further contribute by considering microgeneration to supplement their power consumption. Microgeneration is the process of using some sort of renewable technology to generate supplemental electricity pumped directly into a home. If excess energy is produced, it can be sold back to the utility provider.
Some of the more popular microgeneration technologies include:
- Photovoltaic Solar Panels - This is perhaps the most popular form of microgeneration in the UK. Solar panels are easy to install, they do not require a lot of space, they are quiet, and they are fairly efficient. You can install solar panels on the roof, on a designated panel in the garden, or any place else on a property where sufficient sunlight is available.
- Wind Turbines - Wind turbines are another popular option, although they are not as efficient as most people hope. Wind turbines convert wind energy into electricity through a simple generator and transformer. The two downsides to wind turbines are the noise they create and the fact that they can be useless on very still days.
- Water Turbines - These work the same way as the wind turbine except for the fact that they are powered by moving water rather than a breeze. They are a bit more efficient then wind turbines because the water rarely ceases moving. Unfortunately, there aren't many residential locations where consumers will find a reliable water source or running water.
- Biomass Fuels - The area of biomass fuels is fairly new in terms of consumer applications, but it is a growing technology for personal green energy. Biomass involves things like composting and burning biofuels to generate heat and electricity. This is a technology to keep an eye on for the next few years.
Green Energy Power Companies
Another thing consumers can do at home is to consider switching to a green energy supplier. There aren't a tremendous number of dedicated companies, nor are they available all across the UK, but where you can find them, they offer the opportunity to purchase your electric service in a way that is environmentally responsible. Many of the brown suppliers also offer green energy tariffs.
One example is a Hertfordshire-based enterprise known simply as Green Energy UK, Plc. This company is one that has contracted with a variety of other business enterprises to produce green energy from the wind, the sun, water, and a variety of farming operations. They then turn around and offer that power to their customers at competitive prices.
The thing to understand about green energy is that companies involved in this business do not send electricity directly to a customer's home. But then, neither do traditional brown energy suppliers. All of the electricity is fed into the national grid where is distributed to both homes and businesses on an as-needed basis.
As explained by Green Energy UK, the idea is to increase the number of consumers wanting to purchase power from green energy companies thus reducing the dependence on brown energy. An increased customer base will provide green energy companies the funding they need to invest in further power generating operations.
Switching to Green Energy
Making the switch from a brown energy supplier to a green one is no different from a lateral move between brown suppliers. It is simply a matter of checking to see what is available in your area and then comparing prices accordingly. When you find a green energy company you like all you need do is contact them and arrange for the switch to take place.
Please understand that electric service is heavily influenced by geographic location. Unfortunately, electricity is regionally priced. However, you can expect very competitive pricing from green energy companies in most cases.
For the best savings possible, consider switching to a green energy company and getting involved in your own microgeneration. If you are able to generate excess power you can sell back to your supplier, you could substantially reduce your monthly utility bills. For those who love green energy, microgeneration is the best of both worlds.
There is no denying that green energy is something that is here to stay. The only question is whether the UK will ever reach the goal of using 100% renewable sources for energy production. For now, we must do everything we can to promote business expansion in the green sector and responsible energy consumption at home.
If you would like more information about green energy, there are lots to glean from the Internet. Below are links to three sites you will probably find interesting. If you are ready to start comparing tariffs with the intention of switching, we've provided additional links to comparison websites in the next section.
Energy4All - A site that makes a very strong case for renewable energy in the UK. Information found here answers many of the most commonly asked questions regarding this topic.
GreenEnergyNet.com - This is an independent, impartial, online magazine focusing on green energy in the UK. It is a great magazine for both consumers and business owners interested in getting into the industry. It is free as well.
Comparison websites make it easy to shop the energy market and find the best deal. Here are links to nine comparison websites where you can shop for green energy or just compare prices against the other options. Between all of them, you should be able to find the deal you are looking for.
Money Supermarket - This site offers a good explanation of green energy including how it can benefit the average consumer. When you are ready to begin comparing, just click the appropriate button and enter the information requested.
Confused.com - A site offering comparisons among green energy suppliers with the click of a mouse. You can compare pricing with brown suppliers as well. They claim users of this site can save more than £320 on the utility bills.
uSwitch.com - When you follow this link, you will be taken to a page comparing green energy plans from multiple UK suppliers. Plans are available from British Gas, Good Energy, SSE, and more.
Money.co.uk - Offers comparisons of dozens of different energy tariff options. You can specify your search according to various criteria including green energy suppliers. All the information is laid out in an easy-to-read format.
UKPower.co.uk - This Consumer Focus accredited site lets you search prices for both "deep green" and "pale green" energy. If you find a supplier you like, you can switch online.
Green Energy Helpline - Enter your postcode on this site to search across the UK power industry for providers offering green energy. They claim you could save as much as £169 per year by searching and switching with them.
Green Energy Switch - A site brought to you by Energylinks.com. They offer free and impartial price quotes from UK green energy suppliers. To get started simply enter your postcode, e-mail address, and the type of energy you are looking to compare.
Money Saving Expert - This site offers some myth busting facts about green energy and reducing power consumption. There is lots of other helpful information about all things energy. This is a site you do not want to miss.