ScottishPower - electricity supply in England

overall Rating:

1.5

planets

Elmira Kubenova
8/3/2021
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In England, all electricity supply is distributed to homes via the National Grid. Electricity suppliers buy electricity from generators, or generate it themselves, to be pooled together and distributed to the consumers. To provide transparency for consumers, Ofgem (a government regulating body for electricity and gas markets) issues certificates to renewable electricity generators for each MW of power they produce. Unfortunately, some companies can purchase those certificates separately, whilst buying electricity ‘wholesale', possibly from non-renewable sources. I feel that this certification scheme provides a loophole for companies to greenwash their customers into believing that electricity they use is renewable, whist not being transparent about their actual sources. ScottishPower and Good Energy have created a report on this issue, calling the government to change the certification scheme to improve transparency. Their fuel mix is less renewables-based than the UK average, which is surprising for a company marketed as 'green', but I appreciate their transparency about this. In addition, another issue in switching to renewables is matching supply and demand, since there is little to no storage capacity in the grid. For example, ScottishPower is installing lithium-ion batteries to increase the storage capacity and support the transition to renewables. Another problematic aspect is that this company is known for sending threats and bailiffs to people who do not owe them money. This has affected vulnerable people (including pensioners and people with disabilities), some of which have received threatening letters for years. This is extremely unethical, since it could scare people and even unfairly lower their credit scores.

what it's made of:

1.5

ScottishPower has both 100% renewable and non-renewable tariffs available. Their total supply is sourced from a mix of gas (50%), renewables (36%, this is below the UK average of 38%), nuclear (6%, this is significantly below UK average of 17%), coal (4%, same as UK average) and other sources. The company has been quite transparent about this and does not greenwash by purchasing Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificates, so renewable tariff is actually backed by renewable electricity. Overall, their operational carbon emissions are 264 g per kWh, which is above the UK average of 198 g per kWh. This is surprising for a company that markets itself as green, although statistics could be skewed due to the REGO loophole. Most of their renewable power is generated by their own windfarms located in the UK and some is backed by power purhase agreements with other renewable generators. Interestingly, ScottishPower has sold all of their gas and hydro plants and closed their coal power stations, but continues to purchase electricity from those sources. Burning and mining coal has a large carbon footprint and can release toxic SO2 (can cause acid rain), mercury and soot, contributing to air pollution. Overall, I found those stats surprising, considering the company markets itself as green, but I appreciate their transparency.

how it's made:

2

As mentioned above, ScottishPower purchases power from non-renewable sources, including coal and nuclear. Both coal and uranium fuel require mining, which has a large carbon footprint, can impacts the landscapes and might involve unethical labour practices, depending on where those are mined. ScottishPower has produced a modern slavery statement and is working with Slave-Free Alliance to ensure that there is no human rights violations in their supply chain, however I feel there is a lack of transparency in their supply chain. So despite purchasing a significant amount of non-renewable power, the company invests heavily into renewables, with a planned investment of £3.7 billion between 2020 and 2025 to increase their renewable generation. To manufacture solar panels and build wind turbines, it requires mining, manufacturing and transportation, all of which emits greenhouse gases. This is often referred to as capital emissions. I have not been able to find a full breakdown of Scottish Power’s carbon emissions, although it seems that they are looking to reduce them. For example, earlier this year (2021), they have used waste vegetable oil to power 2 of their crew transport vessels, and this is predicted to lower the emissions by 30%. They are also installing lithium-ion batteries to help balance supply and demand, which aids in the transition to renewables. Unfortunately, lithium-ion batteries also require mining, manufacturing and transportation in order to be produced. In addition, if they are not properly recycled at the end of their life cycle, lithium-ion batteries can leach toxic chemicals, polluting bodies of water. Finally, ScottishPower is working on air source heat pumps (to replace gas boilers, providing tariffs for electric car users and developing a solar panel and battery installation service for their customers. Overall, I feel there is a lack of transparency regarding ScottishPower's supply chain and capital emissions, but apart from that, the company is making positive changes to transition to renewables.

who makes it:

1

ScottishPower is one of the ‘big six' UK electricity suppliers and is a part of the Iberdola Group - an international utility company based in Spain. ScottishPower has had issues with their customers service, and they have been accused of sending bailiffs and threats to people who were not in debt to them. In addition, Which? has reported that this company has poor customer service and rather high prices. I feel that a high price is not justified, considering that their overall fuel mix is less renewable-based than the UK average. ScottishPower has had mixed reviews on Glassdoor from their employees, with an overall rating of 3.8 stars out of 5. Many people criticised the management, feeling that they didn't care or were inadequate. However, many reviews also mentioned friendly staff and 95% of reviewers approved of the CEO. I feel that sending bailiffs to people who do not owe them money is unethical and is especially harmful to vulnerable people who may struggle with dealing with threats and bailiffs. An article by the Guardian reports that a pensioner who didn't even have an account with ScottishPower has received bills from them for more than 8 years, despite their complaints to the energy ombudsman, who requested ScottishPower to cease all contact.
In April 2021, ScottishPower has published a joint report with Good Energy based on a data report by Baringa (a managment consultancy firm) to expose the use of REGO reports for greenwashing in the industry. In the UK, renewable generators are issued a Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin certificate for each MWh of power they produce. Energy supliers can then buy electricity from them along with those certificates, proving that they source renewable electricity. Alternatively, suppliers can buy electricity ‘wholesale' - from mixed sources and then buy those certificates separately to claim that their electricity is '100% renewable'. Good Energy and Scottish Power have request the government and Ofgem (the energy sector regulator) to make improvements om the certification scheme. I appreciate that ScottishPower is trying to provide transparency in the energy sector and I feel it is important to do so.