How are the companies ranked?
Twenty-three electricity retailers which sell to households are included in this Guide. They have been assessed on seven criteria using both publicly available information and information received from the companies following a survey sent to them. 16 companies out of 23 responded to the survey. Download the full report (735 kB)
If I buy from one of the top ranked retailers, am I actually buying renewable energy?
Not directly. The electrons that flow to your home come mostly from the nearest power station, so whatever that is generating from, that’s likely what you’re getting. This Guide is less about choosing a renewable energy provider than choosing a retailer that is putting your money to work in renewables versus fossil fuels (plus our other ranking criteria). Switching retailers is like switching banks or super funds to better reflect your values. When lots of people switch, the dirty retailers will get the message and clean up their act.
So what else can I do to support renewables?
You can put solar on your roof. You can invest in a local community renewable energy project. Or you can purchase up to 100% Green Power from most retailers see here for more details. That will result in new investment in renewable energy above and beyond the Renewable Energy Target.
What about solar?
You sometimes make more solar energy than you use at home. If you’re not eligible for one of the old government feed-in tariffs, what should you do with the extra energy? Read more
What about gas?
Some electricity is generated from gas, mostly during peak periods. Most gas used for generating electricity is from fossil sources. It can be produced from renewable sources like sugar cane trash, landfill and food processing waste, there isn’t much of that in the electricity grid yet.
We often get asked if there are greener providers of piped or bottled gas for use in cooking, space heating and hot water. As far as we know, there’s no source of piped or bottled biogas yet. So try to reduce how much you use. Energy efficient electric appliances such as your reverse-cycle air-conditioner are in many cases cheaper to run than gas appliances such as your gas heater.
If you are concerned about coal seam gas, the big three, Origin, AGL and Energy Australia as well as Alinta and Powerdirect (a subsidiary of AGL) all have CSG investments in NSW or Queensland, so you could avoid doing business with them.
What aren’t you telling me?
The electricity market is complicated. In theory, you could buy electricity from a retailer which owns renewable energy power plants, but some of the energy they provide comes from coal-fired power stations and the other way round. And some don’t own any power stations. All retailers also buy energy through hedging contracts or with direct exposure to the spot market, and many of these purchases are not transparent around the fuel source.
While retailers in some other countries like the UK must make the ‘fuel mix’ of all electricity sales available, Australian retailers aren’t required to do this. Scoring retailer on the emissions intensity (the carbon emissions pre unit of energy produced) was the closest we could get for now to the holy grail of environmental transparency, We think it’s time for power companies in Australia to come clean on where they buy their electricity.
We will keep trying to get more transparency around the fuel mix of total retailer sales in future editions of the Guide. Otherwise governments and regulators should step in and make this happen.
What about dodgy offshore parent companies?
We are aware that some retailers’ parent or part-owner companies outside Australia have histories, investments or policies which, if included in the Guide, might affect the local company’s score. But with our limited resources and the ‘degrees of separation’ problem (How deep do we dig?), we have decided to limit our purview to within Australia for now.