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Renewable energy for business

By Nicole Wilson

If you've been thinking about ways to make your business greener, then your energy supply is a great place to start.

person cycling past wind turbines

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from natural resources that are constantly replenished – like sunlight, wind and rain. It's also known as 'green' or 'clean' energy, because generating renewable energy doesn't rely on burning fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and relies on finite resources like coal.

There are three big names on the renewable energy scene:

Wind

A wind turbine harnesses the movement of the wind to generate electricity. You're most likely to see one as part of a wind farm, either on shore or at sea. Electricity generated by turbines can power local properties, or it can feed straight into the grid. Wind power is currently the largest renewable contribution to the UK's fuel mix – and makes up nearly three quarters of our electricity here at Bulb.

Hydro

Hydropower harnesses the energy of falling or flowing water. Hydroelectricity can be generated in a few ways, but the idea is to force water through a turbine. Large-scale sites do this with a system of pumps, dams and reservoirs, while small-scale plants rely on diverting the natural flow of a river. Even the smallest hydro projects can have a big impact, just ask our friends Gail and Miles at Old Walls Hydro.

Solar

Solar power uses sunlight to generate electricity. Solar panels (also called photovoltaic cells, if you're feeling fancy) are capable of converting light into electricity directly. Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) is another system which directs and magnifies sunlight using mirrors and lenses. This uses thermal energy from the sun to make steam, and generates electricity through a turbine.

As well as the big three, there are other types of renewable energy that get less press.

Geothermal

Geothermal power uses underground heat to create electricity. Geothermal plants harness or create steam using the heat from molten rock under the earth's surface, and then force this steam through a turbine to generate electricity. They can also use water that's been warmed underground to provide heating and hot water directly to homes and businesses.

Biomass

Biomass is a term for organic fuel, which can be burned to produce renewable electricity, or fermented through anaerobic digestion to produce green gas (also known as biogas and biomethane). Green gas can either be put onto the grid to use in cooking and heating at home, or burned to make electricity. Biomass is made from two types of organic material – either purpose-grown crops like sugarcane, or waste products from farming, food and yes, people.

Wave and tidal power

These types of hydropower use the movement of the sea to generate electricity. Kinetic wave energy caused by weather systems can be captured offshore or on the coast before being converted into power using buoys and turbines. Tidal energy generation uses a system of sluices and tidal fences to harness currents and channel water through a turbine as the sea level changes.

At Bulb, we think it's really important that our members know where their energy comes from. We supply 100% renewable electricity to all of our members from a mixture of generation types.

We can't supply 100% green gas (even though we'd love to) because the industry is still in its infancy. We supply as much renewable gas to our members as we can by sourcing from projects like Huggin farm, and we offset what we can't buy green by supporting verified carbon reduction projects across the world.

Why is renewable energy important for my business?

It can save you money

People used to say that you could have green energy or cheap energy, but not both. That's no longer true: the cost of renewable energy has fallen over the past few years, and continues to drop as new technologies and generators are introduced to the market.

It's better for the planet

By signing up for a renewable supplier, businesses can help to protect the planet. That's because switching to renewable energy is the single most important thing a small business can do to reduce its carbon impact.

Every year, the average small business with Bulb saves 4,057 kg of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. That's the hard work of 2,039 trees. Find out how we calculate our carbon impact.

It makes you one of the good guys

Business owners aren't the only ones with an appetite for change. Customers expect companies to make ethical decisions on their behalf. Going green can attract new customers, business partners and talent to your team.

When you join Bulb, we'll help you shout about it with a (bright pink) green energy certificate and stickers for your windows, till points, and anywhere else your customers will see them.

Will I pay extra for renewable energy?

The short answer should be no – but the truth is it depends on who's supplying your green energy. The average small business saves £265 a year by switching to Bulb, and we throw in the warm glow of helping to protect the planet for free.

The cost of renewable energy has fallen dramatically in recent years. This shouldn't be a surprise, once a wind or solar farm is up-and-running, the operating costs are much lower than a traditional power plant. Increased competition and advances in technology are pushing prices down even more.

Despite this, many energy suppliers still charge a premium for renewable energy, so many businesses choose to stick with energy generated from fossil fuels.

Bulb believes energy should be both affordable and green, so we'll never charge you more for choosing renewables. We supply thousands of UK businesses with 100% carbon neutral gas and 100% renewable electricity from a mixture of generation types including wind, solar and hydro. And our prices are on average 10% lower than the big business energy suppliers. It's the best of both worlds.

How do I get renewable energy for my business?

Depending on the size of your business, there are a couple of options for going green:

Pink lightning bolt

Switch to a green energy supplier

This is the easiest way to get renewable energy for your business, and it's available to companies of all sizes.

A green energy tariff means that your supplier puts the same amount of electricity you use back onto the National Grid from renewable sources. So a higher demand from businesses like yours will mean a greener fuel mix on the grid as a whole.

When you look into a green energy tariff, it's worth investigating the fuel mix of your supplier. Energy companies need to publish details about the source of their electricity by law, and some green tariffs are greener than others.

There are fewer renewable options out there for gas, so you can switch to a carbon-neutral tariff like Bulb's, or you could consider offsetting the gas your business uses to balance out your overall impact.

Find out how to switch your business energy supplier.

Generate your own electricity

If your business property is suitable, you can generate your own electricity.

The most popular option is to install solar panels, but some businesses have also installed hydro and wind generators. These projects will usually need planning permission before you begin.

By generating their own renewable energy, businesses can save money on their energy bills and reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Some businesses are generating additional income by selling their excess electricity back to the grid, either through export tariffs like Bulb's (for smaller generators) or through Power Purchase Agreements.

Many sites which generate their own renewable energy still draw from the National Grid at times when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow. In the future, we expect more affordable and efficient batteries to store excess electricity so generators can continue to use their own power even when the weather isn't on their side.

There is a significant upfront cost involved in setting up your own electricity generation – anywhere from a few thousand to several million pounds, depending on the scale of your project. This investment usually pays off in a few years, so it's a better idea for businesses who know they're staying put for a long time.

What if my business doesn't control our energy supply?

If you're environmentally conscious but you're not responsible for your business' energy supply, there are some other measures you can take. A stellar option for becoming greener and saving your business money is to reduce the amount of energy you use.

We've written some low-cost tips to help you make your business more energy efficient.

You could also consider offsetting your energy. Carbon offsetting is a way to balance the carbon emissions you can't avoid by investing in verified carbon-reduction projects. These projects include protecting rainforests or supporting clean energy in other parts of the world.

At Bulb, we buy offsets through our partner ClimateCare. Read more about the work that ClimateCare is doing with Burn Cookstoves and the Gola rainforest.

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