OVO Energy’s zero carbon claims have zero credibility

Posted in: Energy

Posted on: 29.05.2020

The UK’s second biggest energy company promises to shrink customers’ carbon footprints, yet its electricity has a higher carbon intensity than the grid average. Want 100% renewable? That’s a £60 premium, for 100% greenwash.

Last year Good Energy shone a light on how Shell’s entry into the energy retail market showed so clearly the problem with how most energy suppliers claim to be ‘100% renewable’. Many were outraged that a Big Oil company was misrepresenting its green credentials, but none were surprised.  

More surprise might be expressed that OVO Energy, which has always placed a great emphasis on its advocacy for renewables, doubles down on Shell Energy’s greenwashing tactics. Having taken on all of SSE’s domestic customers, OVO is no longer an energy upstart — they are only behind British Gas in what used to be ‘Big Six’, supplying around five million customers. Which is why we think the truth matters more than ever.

So aside from its logo and branding, what has OVO painted green?

A zero carbon life?

OVO’s central promise to its customers is a ‘zero carbon life’. The theme of zero carbon features heavily in its advertising and on its website.

One would be forgiven for assuming that OVO offers zero carbon electricity. Yet on OVO’s own fuel mix page it is noted that the carbon intensity of the electricity it supplies is higher than the grid average. 212 grams per kWh versus the average of 208.

on OVO’s own fuel mix page it is noted that the carbon intensity of the electricity it supplies is higher than the grid average

If you join OVO as one of their standard tariff customers, you're paying for electricity that is more carbon intensive than the average households’.

It is also worth noting that OVO’s representation of the UK average here is based on the statistics for 2018. The government has not published final figures for 2019 yet, but it has been reported that renewables generated as much as 39% for a full quarter in 2019. OVO’s higher than average carbon intensity is due to a reliance on fossil fuel gas and no nuclear, but it shows barely better than average levels of renewable power.

Green upgrade

All is not lost though — you can upgrade to 100% renewable electricity. Setting aside the issues we have outlined before with a supplier offering both brown and green tariffs — allowing for a ‘greenshuffle’ accounting trick — how does that work?

OVO’s £5 a month, £60 a year, ‘green electricity’ premium ensures that the supplier submits enough Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGOs) to the energy regulator Ofgem each year to cover your supply.

Those REGOs, however, cost OVO in the region of £1 per average domestic customer. Where does the remaining £59 go? Well some of it goes toward tree planting. OVO promises 5 trees planted for each of its green upgrade customers. If you were to go by The Woodland Trust's donation suggestion of up to 10 trees per £15 that's roughly £7.50 per customer. 

It's not clear whether this is per year or a one off. But let's be charitable and assume it's per year, how does OVO spend the other £51.50? On buying renewable power from generators, surely? 

It would not seem so. Which?’s report into green tariffs in September revealed that OVO does not buy any of the electricity it supplies direct from renewable generators, and it does not own any of its own renewable generation sites either. Meaning 100% of the ‘renewable’ power it supplies is greenwash — it does effectively nothing to support the growth of renewable generation in the UK. And don't take my word for it on this point — the regulator Ofgem agrees. 

OVO has made a lot of its intentions to drive towards a net zero energy system. Announced to much fanfare last year, its ‘plan zero’ outlines a commitment to net zero emissions across its operations and supply chain by 2030.

That is laudable. But OVO’s five million customers’ energy use undoubtedly makes for a much larger carbon footprint than its direct business. Bringing them on the journey to zero carbon can only work if it is done with transparency and honesty. And by actually supporting the generators in the UK which produce renewable power.

If you want to choose an energy company which does all those things today, you know where to find us.

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