Switching to green energy default can have a lasting effect

Electricity providers have a simple way of encouraging households and companies to procure power from sustainable sources. This can help lower CO2 emissions.

Private households, but also self-​employed people and SMEs, are more likely to procure sustainably produced electricity if that is their provider’s default offer, an effect researchers at ETH Zurich and the University of Warwick have now managed to clearly demonstrate.

The scientists conclude this from an analysis of data from two Swiss electricity suppliers – one large and one medium-​sized. This analysis was possible because these electricity companies changed their default offer a few years ago. Prior to this change, they supplied their customers with a conventional electric mix as standard. Anyone wanting power from renewable sources could order it at an extra charge. Following the change, this was the other way around: “green” electricity became the default and anyone wanting cheaper, conventional electricity had to explicitly ask their power company to supply it.

Lasting effect

Overall, the default effect increased demand for green electricity in private households by over 80 percent, even though it was 3.6 percent more expensive than conventional electricity during the day and 8.3 percent more expensive during the night.

“It’s worth noting that even five years after the change, some 80 percent of the households are still sticking with green electricity,” says Jennifer Gewinner, a researcher and co-​author of the study.

A similar effect was noted for business customers, despite the extra cost for green energy being even higher.

No increase in consumption

The researchers also examined whether or not purchasing green electricity led to higher consumption. It was conceivable that customers might take the perspective that “because my electricity comes from a responsible source, I don’t have to worry about consuming more of it” to give themselves a kind of “moral licence.”

However, the researchers were unable to discern such an effect in relation to green electricity. Households supplied with green electricity did not consume significantly more power than those supplied with a conventional mix.

Image credit: Steve Valasek via Flickr

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