When Bulb claims to supply renewable electricity ‘wherever possible’, it means just 4% of the time

Posted in: Greenwashing

Posted on: 09.06.2021

Bulb says its electricity is sourced from renewable generators ‘wherever possible’. The data shows that is only 4% of the time. The other 96% is greenwash. 

As Good Energy has helped to shed light on the greenwashing that goes on in energy tariffs, it has been intriguing to see how those greenwash suppliers have responded. Some have attempted transparency. Others have doubled down on their greenwash claims. 

Bulb, who have been in the headlines recently for overcharging customers and spiraling complaints, have been a particularly interesting case.  

Let’s start by recapping how greenwashing energy tariffs work. Energy suppliers can buy electricity from the wholesale market, a mix of whatever is on the grid including fossil fuels, then ‘greenwash’ it with cheap renewable ‘REGO’ certificates, sourced separately. The REGOs cost around £1.50 per year per domestic customer, and provide effectively no value to renewable generators.  

We believe that genuine green electricity means having direct contracts with the renewable generators, paying them a fair price for the power, and creating a market to encourage more renewables. This video goes into more depth 

Bulb is proud to promote the renewable generators it works with directly. On its website homepage it is quite clear that “wherever possible, we have direct relationships with these generators to purchase their electricity.” 

The problem is that the phrase ‘wherever possible’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Click through to Bulb’s ‘Our generators’ page and you will find a map listing 29 different generators.  

Good Energy has contracts with +1,600 renewable generators. So many that on our generator map, we don’t have space to list them all individually. We have around 260,000 customers, more than half of whom are generators themselves.  

Bulb has over 1.6 million electricity supply customers. With just 29 generators, things start to look like they don’t quite stack up. The majority of these 29 generators are small, like a lot of the 1,600 generators we work with. Small scale generators need to be supported, but 20-odd of them can’t power 1.6 million homes.  

This is what is revealed in Good Energy’s recent joint report with Scottish Power Come Clean On Green, which uses data from consultancy Baringa to look at the issue of greenwashing in the energy retail industry. Bulb came out as one of the worst culprits, backing just 4% of their ‘green’ tariffs with power bought from renewable generators. The rest is REGO backed wholesale bought electricity. 

Back on Bulb’s website homepage, this is something the supplier almost admits to: “we buy the rest from the wholesale market”. But of course as we know, you cannot buy renewable electricity on the wholesale market. You buy whatever is on the grid, including fossil fuel and nuclear power. What Bulb mean is the other 96% is greenwash.  

Dig deeper into Bulb’s website and you may find the ‘how Bulb buys its electricity’ page, where the supplier claims “We have enough PPAs with renewable generators to meet up to 40% of our members’ demand. We could reach this percentage on a windy day when our members’ demand is low.” 

What Bulb is saying is if their 1.6 million customers all used much less electricity at the same time, and it happened to be very windy, they have enough PPAs to meet 40% of demand. 

Matching customer demand to renewable power generated in real time is something Good Energy is very familiar with. We promise to match our customers’ demand 100% over a year, but aim to match renewable generation with demand right down to the half hour. Through clever forecasting of customer usage and keeping a close eye on the weather, which has a big impact on renewable generation, we achieve this around 90% of the time. Meaning our customers’ demand is being matched to actual renewable generation, not just certificates, as closely as is possible, in real time.  

Bulb claiming it could do similar, for just 40% of customer demand, for an unspecified window of time, if demand is low and generation is high, is likely to be very confusing to the average consumer. 

Bulb entered the market in 2015 promising to make energy ‘simpler, cheaper and greener’. Given their record of making convoluted marketing claims, blocking switches, overcharging customers and greenwashing 96% of their electricity supply, it seems they may need reminding of all three parts of that promise 

Are you concerned about green tariff claims? Read more on our greenwash resource hub. 

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