We used to buy renewable energy years ago and then for some reason, probably price, my husband switched back to fossil-fuel energy. Last year I pestered him enough to switch to renewable energy again and now we buy 100% green electricity, which turned out to be less expensive than non-renewable energy.
This article is aimed at, Joe / Joanne Blogs, someone who wants an overview of renewable energy and the companies that offer it. It’s not a macro view of the energy sector or a analysis of the best direction of technology in this area. If you want that type of info the best place to go is the SEAI website.
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Photo by Leon Contreras on Unsplash
What exactly is renewable energy?
In the European Union (Renewable Energy) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 365/2020) renewable energy was defined as energy from renewable non-fossil sources, namely wind, solar (solar thermal and solar photovoltaic), geothermal energy, ambient energy, tide, wave and other ocean energy, hydropower, biomass, landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogas.
You probably recognise wind, solar power, tide, wave and other ocean energy so I won’t explain those. Geothermal means energy stored in the form of heat beneath the surface of solid earth, while hydropower is energy obtained from fast moving water.
Ambient energy comes from the environment around you, and can be natural in origin like the heat from the sun or man-made as with energy from wi-fi signals.
Energy obtained from landfill gas, sewage treatment plant gas and biogas involves capturing methane, and other gases, emitted from these sources, cleaning it and using it in the same way you would fossil fuel gas.
Biomass involves burning plant matter, like wood, to release energy. There has been a bit of a push back against biomass in recent years as environmentalist say it takes up valuable land, which could absorb carbon if converted to forest.
In recent years, in an effort to deal with our waste problems there has been a move towards ‘waste to energy’ facilities. These are essentially incinerators that convert waste to energy by burning it at very high temperatures and capturing the energy that is released. Some people believe that this is a good way for us to deal with our waste problem, while other say that it’s still a linear system and that the energy stored in the waste could be saved through recycling. Being a linear system would seem to disqualify this system from being described as renewable but it still happens in some quarters.
What are buying when we buy renewable energy?
You are actually buying renewable energy, but it won’t be coming directly to your home. To do this they’d have to lay a cable between your house and the power station, and do that for every customer, which just isn’t feasible.
Instead the energy you buy is added to ‘the grid’ and mixed in with all the other electricity that everyone else is buying. This means that if only 10% of customers sign up for renewable energy only 10% of the electricity on the grid come from renewable. But if 100% of customers sign up for renewable energy 100% of the electricity on the grid will come from renewables, or as close to 100% as is feasible.
I should make it clear that the renewable energy you buy might not be added to the Irish grid. This is because the energy sector works on a carbon credits basis. So when you buy renewable energy from a company that sells into the Irish market that company goes off and buys that energy from a renewable power supplier. But that supplier might be in Poland or Norway, and if so they’ll be putting that renewable energy onto their local grid.
Now in theory, if everyone was buying renewable it wouldn’t matter because the entire energy grid globally would be driven by renewable. So we might be using Norwegian renewable energy in summer in Ireland and the UK might be using Irish wind power the winter. It’s all renewable so all good.
Some people would like to make sure that their money is going towards renewable energy projects based in Ireland, and to do that you really need to buy from companies that support such projects. I list the ones that do below.
I’ve heard conflicting reports about the grid’s capacity to take on more renewable energy. Some argue that we don’t have the storage capacity, while others point to existing technology that can resolve this. As always everything is impossible until it’s done.
I’ve also heard that buying renewable energy doesn’t really encourage investment in the area because the government has set legally binding targets anyway. When I put this question to a renewable energy expert they turned that charge on it’s head saying that the government had to implement a legal target because the market wasn’t driving change quick enough.
Are there any downsides to renewable energy?
Nothing is perfect and there are concerns that the waste generated by decommissioned wind turbines and solar panels negates some of the carbon savings generated by them. Research is underway to find ways to address this in the UK, so hopefully in time this will be remedied.
It would be remiss of me not to recognise that wind farms aren’t always welcome and that being forced to live beside them has caused some people tremendous stress.
Who sells green electricity in Ireland?
Energia is and Irish company that operate Ireland’s biggest wind farm and sell 100% green energy, some of which is generated in Ireland. According to their website they are currently the largest seller of Irish generated green energy on the Irish market. Based on CRU Fuel Mix Reports from 2014 – 2019 (the most recent reports), they are the only energy provider in Ireland recorded as supplying 100% green energy for this given period. They are building two new solar farms in development in Meath and are engaged in a range of bio-energy, energy storage and solar energy projects. They also support the non-profit GIY.
Community Power is Ireland’s first community owned power supplier. The initiative started with the construction of a small wind farm in Co Tipperary and now buys energy from small scale and micro wind farm and hydro projects across Ireland. Their goal is to generate Irish community owned renewable energy as opposed to offsetting international renewable generation to improve our Fuel Mix credentials.
Bright Energy in Belfast sell 100% renewable electricity created by wind, hydro, bio and solar
Waterpower is an Irish company selling renewable energy produced by water, wind, solar, and biomass in generators across Ireland
Panda power, also Irish, generates energy in a number of different ways including harvesting methane from landfill sites. It’s unclear if a portion of the energy that they sell is derived from burnt waste (SRF).
Electric Ireland is Irish too, and the retail division of the ESB. They sell renewable and non-renewable energy.
Flogas sells renewable electricity and offsets the carbon from it’s gas supply.
Iberdrola is a global company offering both gas and electricity to customers in Ireland. It’s electrical supply is said to be 100% renewable but there’s very little detail on the website about where it comes from.
Pinergy sells 100% renewable electricity on the Irish market, which it buys from electricity suppliers on the wholesale market. In 2019 Pinergy’s split of energy was sourced as 54% from wind energy, 24% from solar energy sources and 21% from hydra (water-powered) energy plants.
SSE Airtricity, originally called Eirtricity, is now part of the UK-based SSE Plc. They have 28 onshore wind farms in Ireland, including the massive Galway Wind Park, which is Ireland’s biggest. It only sells renewable electricity.
Just Energy is a Canadian country selling renewable energy and natural gas into few markets including Ireland. They were voted the best electricity company in Houston by the Houston Chronicle. They support 178 renewable projects across North America
Choosy.ie is a website that compares renewable energy providers, although it doesn’t include all suppliers.
If you’re a business you can also get renewable energy from Go Power
Which Appliances cost the most to run
Before I leave you I thought you’d be interested in knowing what appliances use the most energy in your home, as shown in this very helpful diagram by Bloomberg. Unfortunately the cost is in sterling but you get the idea anyway. (Via: Earthbound Report)