What is green energy?

Updated 5th July 2024 | British Gas

Green energy can’t produce polluting greenhouse gases.

You may have noticed that every energy company under the sun is shouting about their green credentials. But what even is green energy? And how do you know whether what you’re paying for is actually good for the planet? Fear not – we’re here to dispel the myths and deliver some home truths about what it really means to be green.

So what makes energy ‘green’?

Green energy can be a bit of vague term. It’s generally thought of to describe energy that has been created using natural resources. But there’s a bit more to it than that.

To be considered ‘green’, it can’t produce polluting greenhouse gases. So while fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas are technically natural resources, they are by no means green because they produce huge amounts of CO2.

Green energy should also limit any practices that could be damaging to the environment, like mining, deforestation, or drilling. That means that some natural energy sources need to be properly regulated before they can be deemed green energy.

Take for example biomass, which is where natural wood waste, sawdust and organic agricultural waste (read: animal poo!) is burned to generate energy. While it is created from natural resources, the burning of this material releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so it needs to be carefully managed in order to be considered a green energy source.

The same goes for geothermal energy, which uses the thermal energy stored just under the earth’s crust – that’s the stuff that creates natural hot springs in places like Iceland. The drilling required to access this energy can be harmful to natural habitats and the environment, so it needs to be closely monitored to be truly green.

Green energy does not impact natural habitats.

Is green energy the same as renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from natural sources that are constantly being replenished, so there’s no fear that they’ll ‘run out’. Green energy and renewable energy are often used interchangeably, but there is actually a slight difference. While many renewable energy sources are green (the most notable ones being wind and solar power), not all of them are – and vice versa.

Hydropower, for example, is a renewable energy source which generates energy from fast-flowing water. But many people argue that the deforestation and construction needed to build huge hydro dams have a negative impact on local eco-systems. So tight controls are needed for it to be classed as green.

Hydropower is a renewable energy source which generates energy from fast-flowing water.

And what about ‘clean’ energy?

Clean energy is defined as an energy source that doesn’t produce any greenhouses gases – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s renewable or considered green.

Nuclear power is a great example of this. It doesn’t produce any carbon emissions which makes it ‘clean’, but the uranium and plutonium used to create nuclear reactions aren’t technically renewable – so they will eventually run out. And because small amounts of radioactive nuclear waste is created from the process, it often isn’t thought of as a green energy source.

But even when we take all the impacts of green, clean and renewable energy into account, they still emit far fewer carbon emissions and do less damage than traditional fossil fuels. And that’s better for the environment, better for our health and better for the future of our planet.

How do I know if my energy supply is actually green?

Every energy supplier needs to display their Fuel Mix, which will tell you exactly where their energy comes from, and crucially, if it generates CO2 emissions. If it does, that might be an indication that the energy they use isn’t 100% green.

It’s important to remember that even if your energy company supplies 100% green energy, once they feed it into the National Grid it gets mixed up with energy produced from other sources. So it’s impossible to say whether the electricity you use to charge your phone came from green sources or not. 

Find out which energy sources we use to produce our gas and electricity – our fuel mix – and where the UK’s energy comes from.

How we can help you make greener energy choices

The UK has committed to a target of reaching net zero by 2050. We’re aiming to beat that deadline within our own organisation by 2045. We have so many ways to help you make the right choices in your home. Whether that’s switching to an electric Vehicle, investing in solar, getting organised with smart tech via Hive, or saving money with PeakSave Green Flex. Together we’re striving for a greener, fairer future.

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