Green Power: Common questions answered

Posted on 31 August 2020

Did you know that over one-third of carbon emissions in Australia comes from the power we use?

One of the main reasons is that around 75% of our electricity in Australia comes from coal (a fossil fuel) with only around 20 percent from zero-emissions renewable energy like solar power and wind.

The GOOD NEWS is that anyone can choose to buy renewable energy and support a more carbon-friendly power industry without actually needing a roof for solar panels or a farm for wind turbines. It’s as easy as calling your electricity provider and choosing a GreenPower product.

Around 170,000 Australians buy GreenPower currently for their homes. They can switch on the lights and know their money is going to clean green energy!

But what exactly is GreenPower, how do you know how ‘green’ it is and where can you find the best deal?

We spoke to the team at GreenPower Headquarters (aka NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment) to help get some answers on buying ‘green’ electricity. 

What is GreenPower exactly?

GreenPower is renewable energy sourced from the sun, the wind, water and waste that is purchased by your energy company on your behalf.

The GreenPower Program is a voluntary national government accreditation program that audits the purchase and sale of renewable energy to make sure it’s coming from large scale generators who produce zero-emissions electricity.

How do I know it’s ‘green’?

Accredited GreenPower generators are assessed against the GreenPower Program rules which includes all aspects of Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD) principles. This accreditation process is in addition to that of the Clean Energy Regulator. Therefore, you can be sure that the GreenPower you buy has a minimal impact on the environment and creates a net positive environmental impact.

The GreenPower Program makes sure all sales of GreenPower are independently audited so that there is no double counting of renewable energy, and no greenwashing.

It seems more expensive – why does it cost more?

The main reason GreenPower costs more is because you are paying for renewable energy above what your retailer is required by law to purchase – meaning your contribution is adding more renewable energy investment to our national supply than would otherwise happen (yay to that).  There is a sophisticated system to track and audit this, to ensure the energy created is renewable, net zero emissions and above business-as-usual*.

The outlay for 100% GreenPower for an average Australian household, which consumes around 15-18 kWh each day, is roughly $1 per day.  This option can shrink your household’s total emissions by half, significantly reducing your impact on the environment. You can opt for cheaper by choosing 25% or 50% options. Also, in many cases you can offset your GreenPower costs through energy efficiency measures. 

How do you find a cheaper GreenPower option? Is that even possible?

Shop around! Energy retailers sell GreenPower at different prices so use the ‘Find a Provider tool’ on the website to find the best offer. It’s important to look at the overall cost of electricity, not just the cost of GreenPower when comparing energy offers.

What’s been the impact of buying GreenPower in Australia?

Since 2011, almost $500 million has been invested back to renewable energy generators through GreenPower purchases. 

Over the last 15 years, the Program has achieved:

  • over 19 million megawatt hours of voluntary renewable energy purchases 
  • more than 16 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions offset with renewable electricity
  • over 6 million cars taken off the road for a full year.

Doesn't it get rorted by the big power companies?

There is a rigorous auditing process for all GreenPower providers to ensure they are meeting the rules of the program and doing right by their customers.** 

What about ‘carbon neutral’ retailers that sell carbon offsets?

Carbon offsets are certificates for the capture and avoidance of carbon emissions, from reforestation projects for example. Carbon offsets generally don’t reduce Australian emissions from renewable energy although there are some international carbon offset projects that build renewable energy in other countries. While you can purchase Australian specific carbon offsets, it’s likely these carbon offsets are based in other countries.

If you are focussed on transitioning Australia’s  energy system to renewables, carbon offsets from non-energy projects won’t directly accelerate this transition.

What’s the difference between GreenPower and other renewable energy that is not certified as GreenPower?

Large-scale renewable energy that’s not GreenPower accredited hasn’t been assessed on the principles of Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD). Nor has it necessarily been audited to make sure there is no double counting of environmental benefits. This doesn’t mean that other renewable energy isn’t as good for the environment. It just means that when you see the GreenPower logo, you know that the renewable energy has been accredited by a government program.

Should I get solar or Green Power?

Why not both (if you have suitable roof space and budget for solar)?!

Solar panels on your roof are great during the day, but to make sure your house or business is 100% renewable, you can buy GreenPower for your night-time energy use. If you have a battery then you might not use much energy from the grid.  Getting your own solar power is a great way reduce your energy bills and it’s all renewable energy.

Isn't it unreliable in the way the green electricity is transported to our homes compared to coal-fired power?

Whether you are getting your electricity from coal, gas or large-scale renewables, they all are transported by the same electricity grid infrastructure. The percentage of renewables in the electricity grids around Australia is, on average, about 20%. Buying GreenPower doesn’t mean the electrons entering your home are directly from renewable sources. It means that you paid for renewable energy to be added to the grid on your behalf.

As GreenPower comes from a range of technologies, they will generate power at different times of day. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), network operators and generator owners work together to provide a reliable and secure energy supply.

How can I tell what is the most environmentally-friendly GreenPower product?

Almost all electricity retailers in Australia are also GreenPower providers, meaning they have their own GreenPower accredited product. They must source their renewable energy from GreenPower accredited generators. Strict environmental assessment ensures only generators with minimal environmental impact, adhering to the principles of Ecological Sustainable Development (ESD), are part of the program.  If you opt for 100% GreenPower, all your energy use is offset by Australian renewable energy.

If you’d like to know which specific generator (i.e. solar farm, wind farm etc.) your GreenPower comes from, ask your energy company where they source their GreenPower accredited renewable energy.

FIND OUT MORE:

*To get more technical: Ensuring the energy created is renewable and net zero, emissions are tracked through the creation and surrender of Large Scale Generation Certificates (LGC).   The cost of GreenPower is comprised of the cost of the Large-scale Generation Certificate (LGC), with small administration fees from your electricity retailer and the GreenPower Administration Program. The LGC makes up the bulk of the cost. As there is an LGC market, the cost of accredited GreenPower can go up and down depending on how many certificates are being created, sold, surrendered or traded.

**To get more technical: All GreenPower providers must purchase GreenPower accredited LGCs and surrender them to the Clean Energy Regulator based on their sales. The GreenPower Administration Program audits this process every year. Some providers are also generators and so get their LGCs for very little cost, and therefore can pass on a lower price to their customers.

 

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