guide

How grid efficiency can help you go green and cut your carbon

17 February 2021 | Stephen Marcus

The grid is getting greener, and that’s exciting news for everyone. As renewables become more popular, we’re generating more green energy than ever before. In the first part of 2020, in fact, Britain made more than 40% of its power from renewables, overtaking fossil fuels for the first time1. As this growing supply of green energy is fed into the National Grid to power all of our homes, we’re cutting down on carbon as a nation. It’s a vital step toward zero carbon, and a sustainable future. 

It’s also a chance to adopt greener habits at home. By learning when the grid is powered by renewables, we can move toward grid efficiency at home. And by using our appliances in those periods, we can tap into this growing pool of green energy. Plus, by using nifty new tech like smart meters and home energy storage, we’re helping to make the grid more dynamic – an important step in the green energy transition.

In this guide, we’ll explain how the National Grid works, how to find out when the grid is greenest, and how smart technology can help to deliver sustainable and affordable energy.

What is the National Grid, and how does it work?

The National Grid is the network that brings electricity to our homes. Managed by a company called – you guessed it! – National Grid, it draws on all of the different sources we use to generate energy. And this means that the energy we receive is a mixture of all of them, whether it’s fossil fuels, nuclear or renewables.

But as we start to generate more renewable energy, a greater share of the grid is coming from green energy. This means that the grid is powered by more green energy at some parts of the day compared to others.

To learn more, check out our guide to how the National Grid works.

How much of the energy on the National Grid comes from renewables?

Around a quarter of the UK’s National Grid comes from renewable energy. In 2019, 26.5% of our energy came from green sources – through a combination of wind, solar and hydro energy2

This is an amazing improvement on just a decade ago, when renewables made up less than 5% of our energy in 20093! Up to then, things hadn’t changed much from the 1970s, when 94% of the UK’s total energy was from fossil fuels. But today, things are changing a lot quicker, as countries across the EU use more energy generated by renewables than by fossil fuels for the first time ever4.

How does green energy generation work?

There are 3 main sources of green energy in the UK:

  • Wind – harnessing Britain’s wonderfully gusty weather, the wind energy on the grid comes from the grand white propellers of our industrial wind turbines. They’re scattered across the country, in wide fields, and half a mile out to sea. Find out more in our guide to wind energy
  • Solar – solar panels turn sunlight (or specifically, the radiation from it) into energy. Lucky for us, they can even generate electricity on cloudy days! Find out more in our guide to solar energy
  • Hydroelectric – hydroelectric energy, or hydro for short, harnesses the power of falling water. The example we’re most familiar with is dams, where a river is held back so that we can release water when we need it. Find out more in our guide to hydro energy

How are we adapting to the grid going more green?

As we move away from fossil fuels, we’ll need to adapt the systems we use – and it’s true that sometimes there’ll be teething problems as we make the transition.

One example is a drop in energy demand that happened during the first lockdown in May 2020. At this time, the UK grid was powered by an amazing amount of green energy – over 70%, in fact!5

But because demand was so low, the rise in green energy risked overloading the grid and causing blackouts. This meant that some of the wind and solar power facilities had to be switched off – a reminder that there are still lessons to learn as we make steps toward zero carbon.

How vehicle-to-grid (V2G) is making the grid more adaptable 

If you have an electric car, then you could help to make the grid better-suited to a renewable future. By storing energy in your car at off-peak times, you could supply it back to the National Grid when demand is high. It could help to balance out demand, and earn you some extra cash too.

Find out how it works, and how OVO is helping in this important step towards greening the grid, in our complete guide to V2G.

When will the grid be fully green?

The government’s plan is for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050. 

But it’s possible that the fuel used by the National Grid could still include some fossil fuels, which would then be offset by other measures. National Grid have a range of options in their plan for achieving net zero carbon by 2050. These include:

  • Carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) – this is a way of taking harmful carbon out of the atmosphere, and is a technology that needs more development if it’s to help us reach our target
  • Hydrogen – a new way of potentially generating low-carbon energy, it could be used for homes, and for things like shipping

Want to know more about carbon neutrality, and learn tips for living a more sustainable lifestyle? Read on, in our guide to what carbon neutral means.

How can I use the grid at the times when it’s greenest?

This is where we get to tell you about our new Carbon Intensity tool! Exclusively for OVO members, it’s an easy way to change your energy habits, to match when the grid is greenest. Here’s how it works:

  • The Carbon Intensity tool is a bit like a weather forecast for your carbon footprint – it tells you the periods over the next 48 hours when the grid will be greenest.
  • This makes it easy to change your routines, so you can cut your carbon footprint – for example, by putting a washing machine on a timer, to run when carbon intensity is lower, or by unplugging energy-hungry appliances when it’s higher. Want more energy-saving tips like this? Check our guide to cutting the carbon footprint of your home
  • It's part of our Carbon Tracker offered to all OVO members – this gives you more information about your carbon emissions, and simple tips to help you on your journey to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Want to start cutting your carbon? Get a quote in 2 minutes, to save hundreds of pounds and start going green with OVO.

If I have a renewable energy plan, then why isn’t all my electricity renewable?

As we explained above, the grid brings together all the energy sources that the UK relies on – so it’s not possible to separate out renewable energy from the other types used by the National Grid. But by choosing a renewable energy plan with OVO, you can be sure that one unit of renewable electricity has been added to the UK grid for every unit of renewable electricity that you buy. 

At OVO, we offer 100% renewable electricity as standard6, so you can play your part in the transition to zero carbon. Get a quote to see how you could cut your carbon, and get cheaper bills too.

Looking to heat your home in a way that’s friendlier to the planet, and still affordable? Try switching to OVO, and get 100% renewable electricity as standard7 – and we’ll even plant a tree for every year that you’re with us. Get a quote in 2 minutes.

Sources and references:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/25/renewable-energy-breaks-uk-record-in-first-quarter-of-2020  

https://www.nationalgrid.com/britain-hits-historic-clean-energy-milestone-zero-carbon-electricity-outstrips-fossil-fuels-2019  

https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/data-portal/electricity-generation-mix-quarter-and-fuel-source-gb  

https://www.planete-energies.com/en/medias/saga-energies/history-energy-united-kingdom

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-26/u-k-grid-has-more-green-power-than-it-can-use-in-demand-slump

6  The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work

7 The renewable electricity we sell is backed by renewable certificates (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates (REGOs)). See here for details on REGO certificates and how these work

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