BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 03 Aug '18

Octopus Energy has switched all its customers to 100% renewable electricity (and hasn’t charged them for it)

This article first appeared in our summer ’18 issue of MyGreenPod Magazine, The Natural Revolution, distributed with the Guardian on 03 Aug 2018. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Octopus Energy started with the ambition of kicking a tired energy market up the backside by offering customers cheaper, greener energy. As well as providing a 100% green tariff, for the last two years the challenger energy supplier has offered the option of cheap ‘standard’ tariffs, in which over two-thirds of the energy is renewable. Now Octopus has decided to go all the way.

All the supplier’s tariffs provide 100% renewable electricity, at no additional cost to customers. Every unit of electricity used is matched with a renewable certificate for the same amount.

What is ‘100% renewable’?

There are different ways of ‘being green’. When Octopus Energy launched, the team ‘agonised over how best to bring cheaper, greener energy to as many people as possible’. The main challenge was combating the perception of green energy as a niche, often expensive, product. Hitting that sweet spot between ‘good for the planet’ and ‘good for the wallet’ is crucial for the mainstream viability of renewable energy.

Bearing this in mind, the first step on Octopus Energy’s journey is to use the government’s REGO (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin) scheme. For every megawatt of electricity its customers use, Octopus purchases a certificate that covers the same amount, ensuring that customers’ demand on the National Grid is only met by renewably generated sources.

Now, this isn’t quite the ideal solution – in an often obfuscating industry, Octopus is committed to transparency and openly acknowledges that REGO certificates have critics. Some argue that without real-time matching from generation to consumption, these certificates leave too much wiggle room for suppliers to get out of their 100% green commitments. But Octopus believes it’s a good first step on the journey, because it gets people used to the idea that you can go green without breaking the bank.

So REGOs are step one. Next, Octopus is hoping to enter into Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), contracting directly with solar farms to offer localised, real-time matching of electricity generation with electricity use. This would guarantee every electron powering Octopus Energy customers’ homes is generated from renewables like the sun, wind or organic decomposition. While buying REGOs offers some funding for renewable energy generation (and every investment is positive), PPAs offer real potential to nurture renewable generation.

In the long term, the aim is to supply all customers’ energy from source; the goal is for Octopus Energy to build its own renewables farms and forge a deeper connection with its renewables suppliers.

Octopus Energy has already made a good start on this long-term plan: its main backer, Octopus Group, is the UK’s biggest investor in large-scale solar (meaning generation sites not on rooftops) and has over 150 sites across the UK. Though Octopus Energy doesn’t own these sites directly, the solar farms are central to its relationship with Octopus Group.

The wheels are also turning on some proprietary Octopus Energy sites; the supplier is already in talks to make its own renewable farms become a reality.

We’re talking ‘longer term’, but Octopus Energy’s first few years in operation have been characterised by speedy, massive growth (from 0 to nearly 250,000 customers in its first two years) – and nothing’s slowed the supplier down yet.

What about gas?

You’re probably thinking this all sounds great as far as electricity goes, but what about gas?

As part of Octopus Energy’s drive to offer a tariff that’s both renewable and cheap, the supplier has avoided ‘green’ gas in favour of carbon offsetting natural gas – a cost effective, and arguably equally green, solution.

For as long as Octopus has been taking on customers, it has offered a Super Green Octopus tariff that commits to fully carbon offset customers’ natural gas usage.
In the past two years, customers on the Super Green Octopus tariff have helped to protect an area of the Amazon rainforest larger than Liechtenstein, thanks to the supplier’s partnership with the Brazilian Florestal Santa Maria project.

As well as putting a stop to logging and deforestation in the area, the partnership has helped to create jobs in 15 local communities, in various sectors ranging from eco-tourism to sustainable forestry.

Last year, however, one of Octopus Energy’s customers introduced the supplier to a charity they worked with – Renewable World. This small, Brighton-based organisation tackles poverty using renewable energy, working to improve incomes, health and education in the developing world by introducing tech that’s driven by renewable energy.
Renewable World’s projects evolve according to the needs of the particular community, but each one centres on returning agency to locals by installing local renewable energy hubs.

As well as Gita and Charles’ stories, you can find lots more information about the work Renewable World does on its website.

Renewable World

Funding from Octopus Energy’s carbon offsetting will now go towards Renewable World’s Global Programme. The impact of the programme and its projects, such as the two below, will be reported directly to customers.

GITA THAPA

Solar has changed Gita Thapa's life in Nepal
Solar has changed Gita Thapa’s life in Nepal
Gita Thapa lives in a family of eight in the semi-urban Nepalese region of Bhaitari, where the community’s women are responsible for holding down the fort at home. This involves – but is by no means limited to – multiple daily treks up and down steep, hazardous slopes to collect water.

 

In 2017, Renewable World installed a solar-powered watering system in Gita’s village to lift water from the source to the community. Following the installation, Gita and her family have been saved from serious health risks as well as hours of exhausting treks.

Gita’s put her extra time to good use: after leasing some land, she has put into practice the agricultural trainings provided as a part of the project, and now grows high-value vegetable crops to sell at the local market.

Thanks to this extra income source, she is now able to enjoy social time and rest. ‘Life has become easier now’, she says.

CHARLES OTIENO

Charles Otieno, N'gore
Charles Otieno, N’gore
In the Kenyan village of Ng’ore, almost all local income and livelihood is linked to fishing on the nearby Lake Victoria. A fisherman’s income is meagre and the day-to-day work is dangerous; before Renewable World got involved, the community had no electricity and instead relied on dangerous kerosene lamps.

 

Despite their toxic fumes and potential for fires and explosions, these lamps were the only option for lighting homes and going out on evening fishing ventures. Charles Otieno is one Ng’ore local whose livelihood depended on fishing under these circumstances.

In 2015, Renewable World installed a solar microgrid in Ng’ore, providing electricity to the community for the first time. Charles retrained as the area technician, which provided a steady income, then used his home energy supply to set up a business charging mobile phones and powering a small community cinema. The proceeds have now been invested in a motorbike, with which Charles is running a taxi service for Ng’ore residents.

‘Before the energy hub came, I was a fisherman’, Charles said. ‘Since it came I got electricity, and I now run a small business… This has changed my life.’