IF I SWITCH TO GREEN ELECTRICITY…

Today, one in five German households gets its electricity from a green energy provider. But few people know what “green energy” actually entails. Here are three common misconceptions.

By Mareike Zeck

 

… THE ELECTRICITY THAT COMES OUT OF MY SOCKET WILL BE EXCLUSIVELY FROM RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES.

No. The same electricity comes out of your power socket as before. This is electricity that has to cover the shortest-possible distance – so it could even be electricity from the nearby nuclear power plant. Imagine our electricity grid as a big lake. Every power plant feeds into this lake, regardless of whether its energy is generated by nuclear power, coal, or hydropower. So even if nobody opts for a green electricity provider or tariff, a portion of that electrical lake will still be made up of electricity from renewable sources. This is laid down in the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). However, those who buy green electricity are at least helping the proportion of renewable energies in that electrical lake to grow faster. This is because they are telling their electricity provider to purchase green electricity on their behalf. Up to now, however, customers have had no way of checking whether or not the electricity company actually does this. But a Europe-wide green electricity register is currently being set up, which will list every kilowatt hour of green electricity produced in Europe. This register should allow people to see where this electricity was produced and who bought it, ensuring that nobody ends up paying for something that they do not get.

 

… I WILL BE PROMOTING THE EXPANSION OF RENEWABLES.

Not necessarily. It is true that some providers purchase exclusively green electricity and plug their profits back into the expansion of renewables, but most providers in Germany also purchase coal and nuclear-generated electricity produced in their own plants alongside ecologically generated power. Customers purchasing green electricity from these providers are therefore also funding coal and nuclear plants. Those householders who want to err on the side of caution should choose a tariff where one cent per kilowatt hour goes into a separate fund that then finances the construction of new green power plants. Tariffs with the “supplier model” also promote the expansion of renewables. With this model, the electricity provider promises that it will purchase a third of its green electricity from plants that are less than six years old, which encourages plant owners to regularly build new green power plants.

 

… MY GREEN ELECTRICITY WILL BE PRODUCED IN GERMANY.

Not for the time being. Green electricity providers in Germany buy the majority of their electricity from abroad – particularly from hydropower plants in Norway. Renewable energy is currently much more expensive on the German market than it is abroad. This is because the federal government is promoting Germany’s green electricity through the Renewable Energy Sources Act, meaning that we are all paying a surcharge. Now, 25 percent of every electricity tariff, whether green or not, comes from renewable sources funded by the Renewable Energy Sources Act. If electricity providers wish to provide a tariff with 100 percent green electricity, they must purchase the remaining 75 percent from green energy producers at a non-subsidised price. That is so expensive, however, that hardly any customers accept such tariffs, so electricity providers prefer to buy cheaper green energy from Norway.

 

How does green electricity work? (German Audio)

Listen to the audio version of this article.

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