Energy Industry

Cover of Issue 143

Last updated: July 2013



Humanity at the crossroads


In June 2013, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had reached record levels, hitting the 400 parts per million mark. Sadly this is not a record we can feel proud about breaking – rather an indication of humanity’s failure to act on climate change, one of the biggest threats we have ever faced collectively as a species.


Although there are some positives within this report, such as the introduction of an independent accreditation scheme for green electricity tariffs, the backdrop is one of humanity at a crossroads. Business as usual and associated catastrophic climate change is one path, while the possibility of a differently organised world which is better both for the planet and those that inhabit it is the other.

In this report, as well as providing up to date consumer information on both the big players in the energy market and those independent companies which focus on renewables. We include news, comment and analysis from a number of organisations and campaign groups working on these issues.

The Big Six energy companies still dominate the UK energy market, holding a massive amount of power over us and energy policies as a result. The majority of us are in some way dependent on them for our gas and electricity supply.

The emergence of three new independent ‘green’ energy companies since we last covered this sector points to some positive progress around this, but not on a scale big enough to truly challenge the UK’s current energy oligopoly. Similarly the increasing numbers of people and communities taking control of their own energy generation is an important development, but likewise it is not on a big enough scale to significantly reduce emissions. Perhaps the main purpose it serves is to indicate the true nature of the structural changes required to genuinely tackle climate change.


In our Food special report, we looked at Food Sovereignty vs Food Security. Similar issues apply to energy. Techno-fixes to keep on securing further fossil fuels stem from an inability to see beyond the next quarter’s profit. If people do take control of their energy supplies, they won’t be contributing to the profit margins of these large energy companies, so there is resistance to this change in approach. Yet this change of approach is necessary if not inevitable.

The desperate chasing of fossil fuels, from shale gas to underground coal gasification, and from tar sands to Arctic drilling – not to mention the securing of fossil fuels using military force – may buy some more time before fossil fuels run out. Essentially though this will only put off the inescapable reality which must eventually be faced – fossil fuels are going to run out.

Extreme energy extraction may give us more time to carry on as we are but after that we’ll still need to find alternative ways of meeting our energy needs as well as facing the fact that we need to reduce our energy use and change our lifestyles. In exchange for this ‘extra time’ to carry on as usual we will create a lethal legacy of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide which will have devastating consequences for the planet and its inhabitants far into the future.

The enormity of the problem, and the terrifying consequences of continuing down the road we’re on, can lead to a feeling of powerless if not paralysis to act on these issues. But we mustn’t despair. There is good news as well as bad, and everyone has a part to play.

There are as many ways to act on climate change as there are people prepared to do so, from the simplest step of switching to an independent green energy provider, and thus taking a little of the power away from the huge companies dominating the market, to occupying a power plant for a week as the brave activists did at EDF’s West Burton power plant in October 2012. From fracking to coal mines, communities across the UK and beyond are resisting fossil fuels in their own backyards.

This Special Report explores these issues in more depth, as well as giving advice on who to buy your energy from.


Product Guide

Green Electricity Tariffs

Ethical and environmental ratings for 16 brands andb est buy recommendations. What fuel is used to generate each company's electricity, price comparison, CO2 emissions and nuclear waste generated, green tariffs compared. 

Read More



Product Guide

Gas Suppliers

Ethical and environmental ratings for 15 brands and best buy recommendations. Who supplies 'green gas'? 

Read More




Ethical made easy

Detailed ethical ratings for over 40,000 companies, brands and products, plus Ethical Consumer magazine.

30 day trial subscription - find out more