Climate explained: What is "green power"?

Oskar Dahl Hansen



You may have heard that you can buy "green power". But maybe it's not quite as good as it sounds.

What is green power?

You may have heard that you can buy "green power". But maybe it's not quite as good as it sounds.

For example, you can switch to an electricity provider that sells "100% wind power", but that doesn't actually change the power you get into the socket. Electricity from all sources, both fossil and renewable, is mixed together in the grid, so everyone gets exactly the same power out of their sockets.

So what do you get when you buy "green power"?

You buy so-called "certificates of origin". This means that you pay a bit extra for your electricity, which then goes to the wind turbine owner, for example. In return, you get a certificate and the right to say "I have green power".

So your electricity doesn't actually get greener. On the other hand, you support renewable energy generation over the use of fossil fuels, so it's still a very important thing to do. Unfortunately, this also means that even if you have "wind power", they'll still turn on the power station a bit more if you use a lot of power. 

Certificates of origin

Now we've told you a bit about so-called green power, why it's not as green as it might sound. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the concept. The ideal is that the purchase of certificates of origin creates an economic incentive for electricity producers to produce power where they can earn a little extra in the form of these certificates. This makes good sense, but unfortunately there is another problem with certificates of origin:

The basic problem is that the certificates are not bound either in time or in place. Let's say you're charging your phone in Denmark one evening in August. You've bought green power from your electricity company and so they now need to buy some certificates of origin. The problem is that the electricity company can easily buy certificates of origin for some electricity that was made back in February 6 months earlier.

Your consumption has nothing to do with the certificate.

For example, we use almost no electricity at night because most people are asleep - but the wind still blows. Then you can just take all the surplus certificates from the night and sell them the next day when we use power again. That doesn't push demand. In fact, we often see that the supply of certificates immediately exceeds demand, which pushes down the price of certificates - and thus also reduces the economic incentive to produce more green power.

Certificates from abroad

In addition, there is no requirement for the power to come from a local, or even national, source. A Danish electricity company can easily buy 6-month-old certificates of origin of hydropower from Norway and call their customers' electricity green. In reality, however, the power in your outlet is not sustainable, and it is actually the Norwegians' power that is green - not yours. This creates another problem, namely that electricity providers can buy certificates of origin from producers who do not need them and then sell them on the Danish market on a false premise. In Norway, people buy very few of these certificates of origin because their power is already primarily produced by hydro - so there is no real market in selling green power, since everyone knows that the power is already green. If the Norwegian producers sell the certificates to Denmark, it means that we in both Denmark and Norway are saying that our power is produced by the same hydropower - which of course it is not. And that is greenwashing of the highest order. The power you receive has not actually become the slightest bit greener, nor has it pushed demand for more renewable energy in Denmark.

What can you do as a consumer?

It may all sound pretty awful, but green power is still not completely hopeless, and there are also some things you can do yourself to make your power consumption a little more climate-friendly.

As we have stated in this article, the current system does not work very well. The very best thing you can do is therefore to set up a solar PV system or a wind turbine yourself and start producing your own electricity. However, many people do not have the means to do this. The next best thing is to follow the guidelines of the Council for Green Change:

  • Buy electricity with certificates of origin from wind and solar from Denmark.
  • Get power from someone who supports certified climate projects that offset the CO2 the power emits in a safe and efficient way.
  • Save power and use it when the grid is not loaded. (Next week's challenge)

And where can you get such power?

You can... nowhere. When we at Climaider set out to research which electricity product was the most climate-friendly, we were really surprised to find that there simply isn't a single electricity company in Denmark that complies with the three pieces of advice above. There are many companies that comply with one of the tips, but none that comply with all three. We emailed and called back and forth with the Council for Green Change who confirmed that they currently do not have a single electricity company in Denmark that they would recommend. So we simply set about doing something about it. We were put in touch with the Danish electricity company Vindstød, and here we negotiated an agreement. If we could get 500 people to sign up to a new and more climate-friendly electricity product, they'd be happy to do it!

  • Vindstød already buys 100% Danish wind power, and they will continue to do so. So here they are tied into place, and thus one of the best ways to use the certificates.
  • On top of that, 3 cents per KwH (that's about 1.5% of the total electricity price) will go to climate projects in developing countries that are verified by either the Gold Standard or the Verified Carbon Standard.
  • Last but not least, all customers will be helped to save power and not to use it at bad times.

We will do this through the Climaider app, where you can both get challenges to cut down on your overall consumption, but where you will also be able to see live what the CO2 intensity of the electricity grid is. In this way, you can make sure to use electricity when it is produced primarily by renewable energy rather than coal power. This is both good for the climate and cheaper for you.

Of course, we are continuously following the developments from El Oversigt, and when it is possible to switch to green certificates that are bound in time and place, we will of course be the first to switch.

We are both excited and happy about the collaboration and hope that you will be one of the first 500 to sign up and help create a brand new electricity product!

You can already sign up right here in the app. Initially, you will "just" switch to Vindstød's normal electricity product, but as soon as we hit 500 people, you will be switched to the new, extra climate-friendly product.