Inside Britain's greenest energy provider
Safia Minney interviews Simon Pickering, Principal Ecologist at Britain’s greenest energy company, Ecotricity
So, Simon, tell me, what do you get when you buy energy from Ecotricity that you don’t get from other green energy providers?
Well, you are not just buying power but also buying into the whole ethos and campaigning spirit of Ecotricity. We pride ourselves on being a company that goes further than any other UK energy supplier to make sure everything we do is building a greener Britain. Ecotricity is the world’s first green energy supplier and I think it’s nice to know that we will keep your lights on and your house warm with electricity that is 100% renewable and carbon neutral gas. We have a unique business model; we’re not for dividends and we don’t have any shareholders, so all of our profits go back into building and researching new sources of renewable energy – we call this bills into mills.
Ecotricity are innovators, focussing on four core pillars: energy, transport, food and giving land back to nature We built the Electric Highway, a national network of electric vehicle chargers along Britain’s motorways to kickstart the electric car revolution and we’re the only energy company in the UK to be recognised by The Vegan Society and Viva! for our vegan energy. We’ve declared a climate emergency and we’ve supported anti-fracking campaigners in England by funding their work and joining them in their campaigns.
We’re also the only energy company in the world that reports the carbon emissions of our entire operation. It means we know the carbon emissions of everything that goes into supplying green energy to our customers – and we have the lowest carbon cost per customer in the UK. From planning, building and running our energy mills, to the operation of our offices – in everything we are striving to save the planet.
We have also used money from our Ecotalk customer bills to help the RSPB buy a nature reserve, Fairburn Tips, that was once the largest coal slag heap in Europe
People talk a lot about local power grids – what does that mean? What happens if you’re not in an area that has one?
Local power grids, or power islands, are business parks or campuses with their own on-site renewable power generation plants. These supply all the buildings within the network without going through the national grid. These typically have battery and smart enabled systems to store and manage power within their own network.
Power islands are still in the early days of development, but it is perfectly possible to have renewable energy generation, say a windmill or solar park, supplying the power directly to a business. We’ve done it with organisations as diverse as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and for our partners, the RSPB, to name a couple.
What is the biggest part of our individual carbon footprint when it comes to running a home?
As an individual your carbon footprint is largely down to the way you heat and cool your house, the way you travel and the food you eat. Old houses are the worst. While they have character, they also use vast amounts energy for heating in the winter. It’s worth remembering that much of the carbon emitted from heating them in the past is still in the atmosphere. The carbon emitted from heating them now will still be in the atmosphere for many years to come. So, improving the energy performance of your house is well worth it. What better legacy for future generations than a stunning AND highly energy efficient house.
I have personal experience as 15 years ago I improved the energy performance of my own 200-year-old grade II listed home. I managed to bring the carbon emissions down from 12 tonne per year to less than 2 tonne per year. Yes, it was disruptive and no, it wasn’t cheap. But it is now very comfortable to live in and the saving on the energy bill (just under £3,000 a year) is very nice.
We’ve all been told to do things like put another sweater on and cook for more people to help reduce our impact on the planet. What other tips can you give us to help us all reduce our CO2 footprint?
It’s is great that woolly jumpers are back in fashion but I think probably what you eat is one of the biggest areas people can make a real difference. Eating less meat and dairy can make a huge difference and switching to a vegan diet can reduce your impact further.
But also, how much you eat and how much food you waste can, and will, have a big impact on the future climate of the planet
Food waste can be collected by your local council, sent to an anaerobic digester and turned into biomethane to be fed back into the grid replacing fossil fuels. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and can end up being a major source of greenhouse gas either as carbon dioxide, if burnt in an incinerator, or as methane released from a landfill site. Methane is a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful in warming the climate than carbon dioxide.
What should we all be asking our MPs to do at the moment?
I would personally ask them which of their policies will keep fossil fuels in the ground and which won’t. Then ask them if they would be willing to defend any of their policies that contribute to climate change in a court of law, in light of the current scientific evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Or perhaps ask them to imagine if they could time travel and ask what they would say to a child in 80 years’ time.