Green electricity that really is green | WWF

Green electricity that really is green

Posted on
02 October 2002
The recent opening of electricity markets in many countries around the world gives consumers a degree of choice as to where their electricity comes from. This, together with a growing awareness of climate change and global warming caused by burning fossil fuels, has led to a large growth in the so-called green electricity market: electricity produced from non-polluting, renewable energy sources that do not harm the environment. But how can consumers be sure that the green tariff they choose really does supply electricity that was generated in an environmentally friendly way? And how can people choose between mushrooming green electricity labels, each with its own criteria and certification for "green electricity"? To address this issue, WWF partnered with other environmental and consumer groups to form the European Green Electricity Network (EUGENE), an independent European label for green electricity. The EUGENE label provides a guarantee that a green power scheme is displacing polluting energy sources and resulting in new green electricity generation over and above national-mandated markets. Under EUGENE criteria, green electricity must come from natural energy sources such as solar, geothermal, wind, tidal, and wave power; burning of "carbon-neutral" biomass, (for example energy crops, agriculture and forestry waste, other organic waste, and sewage gas); or hydroelectricity schemes that preserve the river system’s principal ecological functions. New or expanded hydroelectricity plants can only be labelled as green if they substantially improve the ecology of the river system, in excess of any legal compliance requirements. Not all non-traditional energy sources are considered green by EUGENE. For example, electricity coming from new types of power stations that still have a high burden on the environment will not receive the EUGENE label. Such power stations include waste incineration installations, which often burn non-renewable sources such as plastic, produce toxic emissions, and undermine recycling policies. To receive the EUGENE label, the supplier must also contribute to increases in green electricity generation. The label is not given to green electricity that is already part of a government scheme or from existing green power stations that would have fed their electricity into the grid anyway. In this way, customers are guaranteed that their business supports new installations. EUGENE standards are complemented by national criteria that implement the international standard at the local level. All suppliers undergo an annual independent verification and must fully disclose the percentage and type of renewable resources in their electricity product. In addition to domestic consumers, WWF hopes that EUGENE will help encourage industry and government authorities to show environmental responsibility by switching to green electricity. As major consumers of electricity, industry and governments have a major role to play in reducing CO2 emissions to mitigate climate change. According to WWF calculations, if European public institutions and industries respectively purchased 30 per cent and 10 per cent of their power from additional green electricity, the reduction in CO2 emissions would be equivalent to all of Denmark's emissions in 1998 or to the annual emissions of 18 large coal power stations. But government and industry support for green tariffs goes beyond reducing their own CO2 emissions. A major shift in the way that energy is generated is needed to combat climate change and global warming. While some 1 million consumers have signed up to green electricity in the Netherlands alone, the total number of users in Europe is still only a small fraction of all electricity users, and fossil fuels are still the predominant energy source. Governments and industry can provide a huge impetus for a shift to new and renewable energy sources by reinforcing public policies to support and reward green electricity in competitive electricity markets. Climate change is one of the biggest environmental challenges we face in the 21st century. The voluntary electricity market has a key role in developing additional green power generation and displacing traditional, polluting energy sources. The EUGENE standard will help drive this in Europe by guaranteeing consumers that their switch to green electricity is contributing to increased production of clean and climate-friendly electricity. (666 words) *Giulio Volpi is Climate Policy Officer at WWF's European Policy Office. Further information: Electricity generation, CO2 emissions, and climate change The way industrialized countries produce and consume energy is unsustainable. In 1990, 97 per cent of the CO2 emitted by western industrialised countries came from burning coal, oil and gas for energy, with the power sector responsible for 37 per cent of these energy-related CO2 emissions. CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap the sun's heat. With increased industrialization and burning of fossil fuels for energy over the last century, the level of greenhouse gases is now higher than at any time in the past 420,000 years. The resulting increase in global temperature - 0.6°C over the past century and still rising - is seriously disrupting the world's climate and adversely affecting the world's ecosystems. Green electricity 'Green electricity' is electricity produced from sources which do not cause impacts upon the environment. The cleanest energy sources are those which utilise natural energy, that is wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, and wave power. These are usually known as renewable energy sources, because they will never run out. Biomass - agricultural and forestry material or specially grown energy crops used as a fuel to run power stations - is also considered a green energy source. As plants grow they absorb CO2 which is then released when the material is burned. In this way biomass is deemed to be carbon neutral, as it does not add any extra CO2 into the atmosphere. Specially grown 'energy crops' not only provide a renewable source of electricity, but may also provide an important new opportunity for farmers. Natural gas-fired co-generation, although not a renewable source, is an improved and efficient use of resources. Therefore, it maybe included as part of the green electricity mix offered by a green electricity tariff. National green electricity labels that come under the EUGENE standard Different pre-existing national labels for green electricity - such as Germany's OK-Power and Switzerland's Naturemade - have come under the international label of EUGENE, to provide a harmonized, international standard for green electricity. WWF's work on climate change WWF's Climate Change Programme aims to reduce CO2 emissions by pressing policymakers to introduce effective measures, forming innovative partnerships with progressive businesses, and by raising public concern. WWF's support for EUGENE is just one part of the programme's work to tackle climate change.
Windmill park, Germany.
© WWF / Chris Martin Bahr