Good Energy vs. Ecotricity: which Green Electricity Supplier to use?

A war is ongoing between Britain's leading 'Green' electricity suppliers, with Ecotricity especially keen to slag Good Energy off at every opportunity. But why?

Let's back up and examine what it means to try to buy green or greener electricity. Hopefully it means buying electricity only or overwhelmingly from sustainable, ideally renewable sources, like wind/wave/solar power. Ideally it means that nobody has been exploited to generate the power (suppliers treated fairly by the distributor / power companies).

Most (maybe all?) conventional electricity providers in the UK offer some kind of 'Green' tariff. Where some or even all of your electricity comes from renewable sources. For this you pay a somewhat increased rate, and the Lekki provider promises to buy as many units as you consume from renewable sources.

Which sounds great, except that they are provided to buy so much percentage of electricity by law, anyway. So getting onto a Green Electricity Tariff doesn't really encourage the development of renewables, it just helps the company fulfill its legal obligations.

So next step up (in the ethically pure-minded ladder) is to buy electricity from a dedicated provider, which is how we get to the slanging match between the UK's leading 'Green' Electricity suppliers: Good Energy and Ecotricity. Good Energy promises that all the energy it provides comes from renewable sources, wind/solar and waves. It has never been an important part of Good Energy's business model to invest directly in new generation schemes, BUT they would argue, they do encourage a climate of investment by paying a premium rate to producers. Otherwise, they operate almost purely as distributors. This is one of Ecotricity's chief criticisms, that Good Energy is only in it for profit. Good Energy would counter that they do many things to encourage small scale generation, and that they own and are renovating their own production site: the Delabole Windfarm in North Cornwall. In contrast, Ecotricity operates much more like a conventional electricity company, but with a huge emphasis on and commitment to investment in new sources of renewable electricity that can be measured in many MW rather than kW. Ecotricity include nuclear power and fossil fuels as part of their sources, however, which they see as a subsidy to their investment plans. It is fair to say that Ecotricity really does do what they say; they are investing in wind farms and similar technologies as fast and as much as anyone could reasonably expect them to.

So why are they at each other's throats?

At the end of the day, it's a very competitive industry. The scramble for customers is not just for the Ethically-minded consumers, but for everybody's custom. Although the bigger and better the lies and insinuations about how the other guys operate, the more likely the public is to just throw up their hands in despair and stick with what they know.

Here's a sample of Ecotricty's public attacks on Good Energy:

My guess is that Ecotricity -- especially its spokesman, Dale Vince -- is so strident in its criticisms of Good Energy because they are sick of encountering the same arguments again and again. So why do Ecotricity use fossil fuel sources? Because it's the only way to get from where the UK energy supply situation is now to get to where Ecotricity wants to be, by springboarding on the back of the present reality of where UK electricity needs to come from. Ecotricity is trying to take a long view, whereas Good Energy is simply meeting customer demand (which may be too short-sighted).

So what's a consumer to do?

There's no absolute moral high ground here. The UK Green Party is not endorsing any particular company and neither would I. Ecotricity is probably a greener choice for its long term aims, but its public jibes at Good Energy are annoying to say the very least.

Good Energy is not attacking Ecotricity nearly as often, so in my mind, Good Energy gets Brownie points simply for being either less obvious in its commercial rivalry or maybe even actually rising above the fray by keeping quieter. Because fundamentally, we consumers don't want to hear Ecotricity slagging off the other guys, we want to hear what Ecotricity has to offer in and of itself.

More debate and reading.

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7 Comments

by Rachel on 14 September 2013 Reply
I've been with both ecotricity and good energy and they both have they're plus and minus points. Good energy are definitely better with customer service and more understanding when I've been in financial hardship with letting me pay off my bill slowly in little bits, whereas ecotricity sent me threatening warning letters saying they'll contact debt collectors after I was in arrears for about 4 weeks, which seems like a short period of arrears to be threatening debt collectors that soon, the order i got letters in was 1)bill 2)very threatening reminder letter 3) one week later another reminder letter suggesting debt collectors. I had actually paid some of this bill as well, its not like I hadn't paid anything towards it in that time. Good energy on the other hand, when i was in similar financial difficulty, have sent me friendly letters reminding me about arrears without all the threatening of debt collectors and have been happy with me paying a bit at a time. Also, good energy's standard electric tarrif is 100% renewable but ecotricity's is not, you have to get an extra tarrif with them for 100% renewable electric. But the plus point for ecotricity is the fact they do green gas. While good energy claim its not yet 'financially viable' ecotricity seem to be managing to supply green gas. does anyone have figures of what percentage of ecotricity's gas is green/biomethane?
by KG on 14 December 2011 Reply
At least two of these comments look to me like Ecotricity plants: they have the syntax and gushing hyperbole of adverts, not blog comments. I came here to see whether I should switch to Ecotricity at the same time as inesting some money in their bonds, but both the plants, and Paul Sergeant, have put me off considerably.
by John Swindells on 15 December 2011 Reply
I wouldn't be put off by the pro-Ecotricity comments; they seem genuine enough to me.

What was wrong with what Paul Sergeant said? I thought that he did a good job of defending Ecotricity's corner.

by Dominic on 08 November 2011 Reply
Been with Ecotricity since 2003,I think there GR8.

And now there doing ''green gas''.

by Cathy Lavender on 29 June 2011 Reply
I am concerned at the plan for 15 wind turbines over an extremely small area of beautiful countryside near Salcey Forest. Why are you exploiting these areas? Are farmers easy targets for selling land?
by Carol O on 20 September 2011 Reply
If you're so in love with coal/gas and nuclear power stations, why don't you just move next to one? You're forgetting that someone has to live near power generation sources - why shouldn't you be one of them?

In any case, the turbines supposedly 'detracting' from your beautiful view is purely a matter of (your) opinion. Many of us think wind farms are perfectly nice to look at thanks.

The ugly damage that climate change is set to wreak on your (and our) beautiful areas is going to be far worse!

by Gary M on 06 October 2011 Reply
The damage that will be done to Salcey Forest, a site of special scientific interest, will far outweigh any benefits of this absurd wind farm. If it wasn't for the generous subsidies paid to the developers like Ecotricity, these things wouldn't be built. I'm green, not stupid!This is the WRONG place for such a development and Ecotricity have brainwashed people like you into thinking they are saving the planet by building them. Dale Vince should be put on trial for fraud!
by Carol O on 07 October 2011 Reply
Actually, I was never brainwashed as my whole family have been green-thinking (or forward thinking) since around the 1950s - way before anyone got chance to try to brainwash us into it!
by Bianca on 17 March 2011 Reply
Good Energy are currently giving 50 to "The Greenhouse Trust", my local environmental charity (who I volunteer for), every time someone switches to them. So, I am switching! But I must say visiting the special Ecotricity wind turbine in Swaffham, Norfolk, did inspire me as a young child.
by John Swindells on 17 March 2011 Reply
That's a nice gesture from Good Energy. Thanks for letting us know!
by David Bradbury on 11 January 2011 Reply
I think I've missed most of the argy-bargy as I am a studious ignorer of most advertising. I visited Ecotech in Swaffham in 2001 and signed up to Ecotricity as soon as I got home and have been a customer ever since. I like the fact they generate their own power - even if some of what I buy at the moment is fossil and nuclear originated. A long term view business model is unusual these days but I think Ecotricity have got it right. All I need now is my new oil boiler with the stirling engine and I can sell some of my power back to the grid (although I dont think Ecotricity would be interested in oil originated electricity)
by Paul Sergeant on 11 January 2011 Reply
Hiya! Paul here - Online Community Manager at Ecotricity.

I didn't comment on this at the time it was published, but it just popped up on Twitter again, and I couldn't resist this time :)

There's quite a few questions that still remain after reading this, like what percentage of Good Energy's supply is sourced from "paying a premium rate to producers" and how much is bought on the open market, marked up & *sold* at a premium rate? (just like the rest of the energy suppliers). Do they actually pay a premium these days?

But anyway - I don't want to focus on the negatives of our competitors - like you say - we have plenty of positive things to offer :)

* Best customer service in the industry bar none http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/news/big-six-customer-service-exposed

* Highest investment in renewables per capita bar none http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/for-your-home/uk-s-greenest-energy/how-green-is-your-energy-company

* Founders of the green electricity model http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/about/

* Pioneers of Merchant Wind model http://www.merchantwindpower.co.uk/home/about-mwp

* Developed world leading ways to fund renewable investment (Our wildly successful EcoBonds launch) http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/news/ecobonds-sell-out-as-ecotricity-raises-10million

* Looking set to be the first builder of UK's first large scale solar farm & first to build combined wind & sun farms in the UK, and http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/news/britain-s-first-sun-park-gets-the-green-light

* Pioneers of wind powered electric cars & electric car infrastructure http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/news/ecotricity-launches-wind-powered-sports-car

* First to launch Green Gas tariff in the UK enabling us to turn dual fuel bills in mills http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/about/our-green-gas

* 51 large scale wind turbines built to date. Lots more to come this year http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/wind-parks

* Highest rate paid to microgen 'early adopters' in the industry (Pre-FiTs) http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/for-your-home/microtricity/renewable-rewards

I am sure I missed something off, but you get the idea :)

Oh I know - we also revamped our 'devious' website - hope you like the new treatment? http://www.whichgreen.org/

The 'How green' page you referred to was a parody of Good Energy's own website - but that's gone now too. We now use the same Energy Supplier rating we have on Whichgreen. http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/for-your-home/uk-s-greenest-energy/how-green-is-your-energy-company

Cheers for the mention Swinny. Who do you go with BTW?

Paul

by James on 13 March 2011 Reply
I think you may be mistaken about customer service Paul, Good Energy came top of the 'Which consumer satisfaction survey'. Cheers, James @ Bath Uni
by Paul Sergeant on 03 May 2011 Reply
Hi James - sorry I missed your reply until now.

We did not feature in the Which survey you refer to because they say: "Where we didn't have a large enough number of respondents, we aren't able to provide a valid rating and a score. Results for suppliers with less than 30 respondents are considered statistically insufficient."

That's why last years 'winners' - Good Energy do not feature this year at all(sample size this year too small).

Also http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/news/consumer-focus-helps-consumers-by-publishing-energy-complaints-data - this is for the Big Six only, they said they'd do one for independents in April, but haven't yet...

Based on the criteria here (complaints to Consumer Direct, Consumer Focus and the Energy Ombudsman), we'd have 5 star service as we've only had one.

Cheers

Paul

by Carol O on 20 September 2011 Reply
Paul, I'm one of the folks debating between yourselves and Good Energy right now for my next electricity supplier. You both have good things going for you, despite the different focus and approach. HOWEVER, being seen to slag another company off, even if it may be to some extent justified, doesn't impress me as a potential customer one bit. So I think you guys need to be a tad more diplomatic in order not to put potential customers off.
by Elisabeth on 23 February 2011 Reply
Best customer service in the entire universe!

You get real people at Ecotricity - and love the investment in true green energy too...

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