How to be greener than ‘green electricity’

25 June 2020 | OVO Energy

Choosing renewable electricity is great, but you can make even more of a positive impact by changing the way you use it. Intrigued? Read on to find out more.

If you’re on 100% renewable electricity, then good on you. You’re quite rightly giving renewables the big thumbs up. But did you know that if you want to help make sure that all electricity is powered by renewables in the future, there’s more you can do? We’ve done our best to explain it all, right here. But it’s a tricky topic, so get yourself comfy. 

It’s also helpful if you know a few key things about how the UK’s energy system works, so you can read up on the National Grid [here] Or, if you’re already a National Grid know-it-all, let’s dive straight in! 

First up, there's no denying that renewable electricity is the future

It allows us to move away from [carbon-based] energy sources like coal, which means less [carbon is emitted], and we can slow down the climate crisis – all very good news.

But since we currently only widely store electricity in small amounts (about enough to power a house, or an electric car), [electricity from renewable sources] like solar or wind power need to be constantly available1. Which is tricky when you think about it, because they’re only generated when it’s sunny or windy. 

If it’s really sunny or windy, there’s enough energy for the whole country to run on renewables. But when those levels drop, carbon-based power (which releases carbon into the atmosphere) has to be used to ‘top us up’.

The same thing happens when there’s an exceptional demand for energy (say, we’ve all decided to stick on our kettle for a cuppa during a big football match). Even if the weather’s spot on, we just don’t have enough power.

And sometimes, the opposite happens. We have more solar or wind than we need, so we turn off wind turbines and solar panels. But this means we don’t capture energy that we could be storing for later.

For the UK to be powered by renewables alone, we need to take 4 key steps. 

For starters, we need to reduce how much electricity we need. 

This means we won’t have to turn on those nasty [carbon] coal-powered energy sources because demand won’t call for it. This will be extra important in the coming years because when we electrify cars and heating, the demand for electricity will go up. 

To do this, we need to use our energy better, which will take[ small changes] from everyone. Changes like switching to LED lighting and turning off appliances at the wall, line drying in summer rather than tumble drying – and, of course, switching lights off when we leave a room. These small changes, made together, can lower demand on the national grid overall.

We also need to think about when we’re using our energy. 

Because if we all use lots of energy at the same time (like 7pm when we’re all cooking supper and watching TV), those non-green resources will come back into play. This is where you can use smart plugs to spread out your high-energy activities, like, doing your washing in at night, for example. We call this ‘load shifting’.

We need to get smart meters.

It might surprise you, but smart meters aren’t just a handy way to stop giving meter readings. They’re also central in the push towards a low-carbon grid. That’s because they help us all track our energy use and reduce it, and they help with the transmission and distribution of energy, so the whole system is more efficient.

The final step is the biggest, and the one that’s in its earliest stages. 

Remember we said that sometimes more renewable energy might be generated than is needed, so turbines and solar panels get switched off? Well step four helps harness that green electricity when it’s available – by storing it in really Big Batteries.

Like this:

The beauty of this battery is that you can charge it up when electricity on the grid is super green, and then use your lovely stash of renewables to power your home, or even sell it back to the grid when it needs an extra boost of green. V2G chargers work in the same way, but use the battery in your electric car to power your home. Both these storage techniques reduce the volume of carbon created by the grid. Want to find out more? Read here.

If you’re already generating some of your own power, with solar panels on your roof, for example, then you can also home batteries to store renewable energy when it’s available. Together, battery storage, V2G and micro-generation form the basis of a flexible grid that can help get us to zero carbon.

In conclusion, even if you’re already on a 100% renewable electricity plan, doing all this stuff (or even just some of it!) means we can transition the whole of the UK onto renewable energy sources – while, crucially, keeping everyone's lights on.

Here are some easy and practical ways to reduce your carbon footprint, and while you're at it, read these suggestions for how to make sure you're not damaging the ozone layer.

Not sure where to start? We don’t blame you. That’s why we launched our programme OVO Beyond. As well as giving you 100% carbon-neutral energy, you get lots of tips and tricks to reduce how much energy you’re using overall, helping us take the whole UK grid to carbon zero. Phew. 

1 - Traditionally electricity couldn’t be stored in large quantities, but this is starting to change as the technology advances and becomes affordable, like Centrica’s giant battery in Cumbria, but by and large it’s still true that we don’t store our energy in large volumes. It can be stored in batteries big enough to power our cars, or individual homes, for example.