With so much talk around renewable energy, do you find yourself wondering exactly how it is generated, where it’s used and what all this really means for you? In this renewable energy guide, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions about sustainable technologies and how these translate into energy options for your home.
Renewable energy refers to energy that is generated from a power source that can be replenished, such as sunlight, wind, water and biomass instead of fossil fuels like coal or oil. Fossil fuels come from carbon-based organic materials and form over millions of years. Renewable sources on the other hand, get replenished by nature and are not carbon-based, which means they do not release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and are safer for the environment.
For environment-conscious customers there are two ways in which you can support the renewable energy industry in Australia. The easier option is to look for electricity providers that offer green or renewable energy plans, which let you buy some or all of your energy needs from renewable sources.
The second option available to many Australian households is to install solar panels on the roof of your house. The solar panels will generate electricity to power your home or feed into the power network. If you’re interested in getting solar panels for your home read our solar energy guide.
There isn’t a one single type of green energy plan as each electricity provider has different ways in which they choose to generate or buy the energy for their network. The most common sustainable energy plan is one where you can sponsor a percentage of your energy usage to be generated using renewable sources. While this renewable power will not directly come to your home, the electricity provider will purchase it on your behalf and feed it back into the grid. Some providers like Powershop even let you pick the sustainable industry that you want to support including community energy projects, landfill gas, energy from sugar milling and other wind farms.
Many energy providers offer certified GreenPower Products, which can be identified by the GreenPower ‘tick’ logo.
The GreenPower Program is a government managed scheme that lets Australian households as well as businesses to match their electricity usage with certified renewable energy, which is then pumped into the grid by their provider on their behalf. When you purchase a GreenPower certified product from your energy supplier, they buy the equivalent amount of electricity as nominated by you from accredited renewable energy generators, which generate electricity from sources like wind, solar, water and bioenergy. The energy purchased for a GreenPower plan comes from generators built after 1997.
GreenPower plans have a higher tariff than standard electricity plans because currently it entails building a new infrastructure for the grid. However, like any other new technology, as the the infrastructure develops and the demand rises, the costs should decline over time.
In general, the cost of GreenPower is around 5-8 cents per kWh more than the standard current electricity rate, when you choose to buy 100% GreenPower. If you were to opt for a relatively smaller proportion of 10-25% GreenPower, you will only have to pay about 80 cents to $1 a week.
There are two advantages by opting for a renewable energy plan. The first is a personal benefit because you reduce your household’s carbon footprint by sponsoring a part or all of your electricity usage to be generated using clean sources.
The second advantage is that you support Australia’s collective goal towards saving the environment. For instance, since 2009 GreenPower customers have saved more than 9.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases from being released into our atmosphere. Also, this renewable energy that you sponsor is above the amount of clean energy that is in the grid as mandated by government requirements. So the more renewable energy you support, the better it is for the overall Renewable Energy Target.
Renewable Energy Target (RET) is a Federal Government policy designed to make sure that at least 33,000 Gigawatt-hour (GWh) of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020. This implies that by 2020, approximately 23.5% of Australia’s electricity generation will be from sustainable sources. RET also offers an incentive to deploy renewable sources of energy as part of the response to climate change. You can read more about this scheme here.
If you want to make an environment-friendly choice and reduce your household’s carbon footprint, you can use Mozo’s free energy comparison tool to get a list of providers who offer green plans in your area. Just type in your postcode and select the renewable energy option to filter your results.