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Green power

The electricity that powers our cities doesn’t have to come from dirty, polluting sources – now you can choose a range of clean energy options that are reasonably priced.

Wind farms

Wind farms - a form of green power.

Credit: iStockphoto

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What is GreenPower?

You’ve probably seen a flyer when you got your electricity bill: the option to spend a bit more on per month and receive ‘green’ electricity. Many energy providers around Australia are now offering some form of green electricity. The question is, what actually is ‘green’ electricity?

It’s not frogs on treadmills. Green electricity is essentially any energy source that helps reduce our negative impact on the environment, primarily through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in generating that energy.

The difference between just any old green electricity and GreenPower is that only the green type promotes and supports new sources of renewable energy.

According to the nationwide, state government-backed GreenPower accreditation program – which sets stringent standards for green energy providers – GreenPower is an electricity generator that “must result in greenhouse gas emission reduction, result in net environmental benefits, be based primarily on a renewable energy resource”.

There are three key elements to this description:

  1. The energy is based on a renewable resource. This rules out our traditional fossil fuel favourites, such as coal, oil and natural gas. Typical renewable energy resources include wind, hydro (rivers and dams), wave and tidal power, sunlight or even burning scrap wood or sewage.
  2. It results in a “greenhouse gas emission reduction”. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s 100 per cent greenhouse gas free. Some forms of green energy might release some greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but they release significantly less than would be emitted by burning coal. This means that if you use this green electricity source, an equivalent amount of coal is not burnt, and this results in less greenhouse gases being released overall. (Why is coal used as a point of reference? Because 86 per cent of our electricity in Australia comes from coal.)
  3. The “net environmental benefits”. Some green electricity sources release a substantial amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, such as burning bagasse (sugar cane stalks after they’ve been crushed to remove the sugar). However, the amount of carbon dioxide released during burning is the same as was absorbed from the atmosphere while the sugarcane was growing. As such, this type of energy source is considered ‘carbon neutral’. This is not quite as good as a source that generates no greenhouse gases, such as solar or wind, but again, it can offset a proportion of conventional electricity generated from ‘dirty’ sources, such as coal, so there is a net benefit at the end of the day.

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