People actually think they are getting the electricity generated by wind turbines or solar panels simply because they have bought renewable energy from a renewable electricity generator or supply company. This isn’t the case!
Say you live a mile away from Drax (gas, coal and biomass powered generating station) in Yorkshire and you decide that you want to buy electricity from Good Energy (a 100% renewable energy company that supplies electricity via wind, solar and other renewable generation plant). Now Good Energy have a wind farm in Devon which you like and wish to support (using this purely as an example). Now regardless of the pledge from Good Energy that all the electricity they supply is 100% renewable and regardless of the fact that you are supplied by them, the actual electricity that will use in your home or business will be from Drax simply because Drax is your nearest power generator.
You see electricity, like water, takes the path of least resistance and so instead of flowing into the big distribution, transmission network where resistance is high, it will take the nearest exit from the grid which could be your home or business (if situated near to the power station). To some this will be a big surprise but to other this is simple physics.
Now if you think about this, location more than anything else determines what type of electricity you actually use (green, brown or something else). If you live in Yorkshire, for example, you will likely be consuming fossil fuel generated electricity regardless of who you are contracted with in respect to your electricity supply. If you live in the Highlands of Scotland you will likely be using renewable electricity (there are no fossil fired power stations in the Highland of Scotland and so it is unlikely that you will be supplied with electrons from fossil fuel plant).
To understand how things truly work you need to consider how the grid works in the UK.
In the UK we have a transmission network that is operated and maintained by the National Grid and runs at high voltage 400kV and 275kV. We have a distribution network that is operated and maintained by Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) and runs at 132kV, 66kV, 33kV, 11kV, 415v and 240v. Now where your electrons actually come from depends on where the generation station is connected in respect to the grid (transmission or distribution) and where your electricity is taken from in respect to the grid network (know as the entry and exit points). But in general terms the generating station that is nearest to you is likely to be the one supplying your electrons. The only exception to this is when the generating station nearest to you is off line (for whatever reason) then the electrons you receive will be from further a field.
So you see just because you buy electricity from a 100% renewable energy company doesn’t actually mean that you are using 100% renewable electrons. The only way you can guarantee this is to have the electricity you use actually generated and stored onsite i.e. you use wind or solar to generate your own electricity and you store and use that electricity onsite yourself.
You may be wondering why bother to buy from a renewable energy company based in Devon if you live in Yorkshire? What is the point if your electrons are being supplied by a fossil fired power station next door. Well the answer is that by buying renewable electricity (green electrons) you are supporting the renewable energy company you like. The more you support these companies then the more renewable electricity generating planet they will be able to build and thus the more green electrons will flow into the grid. One day if we all support these companies then we just might all be able to turn off all of the fossil fired power stations and get all of our electricity from these renewable electricity generators (located hopefully near to use) and so help address Global Warming. Now wouldn’t that be good.
Right now the electrons you are using may not be green but if you are buying from a renewable energy company like Good Energy you are still doing the right thing as you are investing in the future.
Here’s hoping that there is a lot more green electrons in our network in the coming years.