The advertisement opened with an image of a man sitting on a couch nursing a baby. The baby's hand was in his.
“Funny how small things often matter most.”
The scene changed to fingernails being varnished and showed a young girl painting the nails of an elderly lady and then changed to a kitchen with several people. A man was making tea, putting tea bags in various cups.
“Like how you make your cup of tea.”
Another scene showed a tea leaf strainer being held over a cup while the person poured boiling water over the strainer. A kettle was shown boiling.
“One with a kettle powered by fossil fuels.”
The scene moved to the image of many industrial chimneys with smoke billowing out of them. A child was shown watching the image of the chimneys on a TV.
“The other with 100% green energy.”
The scene changed to a wind farm, then to an electric kettle boiling and a tray with mugs of tea being carried, and then a kitchen table with an extended family celebrating a birthday, washed cups on a draining board, farmers sitting in a field having their break. The scene then changed to the outside of a house in the evening, then the image of a mother and son sitting at the kitchen table while he was doing his homework.
“Now imagine that cup of tea multiplied by 10 million, roughly the amount of tea made in Ireland every day. And what if all our other stuff was powered by green energy too.”
Scene moved to a boy putting his sports clothes in a washing machine and putting the machine on, an oven being switched on, a woman closing a fridge, 2 girls sitting on a bed listening to a phone, then a young couple posing for a photo with a man outside a house, a young girl and elderly lady smiling at the camera, the man who had been holding the baby was now standing outside with his family, a woman drinking from a cup of tea and then back to the wind farm.
“Small choices coming together to make the world a better place. Because this generation are ready to make a difference. And we start to change the world one cup of tea at a time. SSE Airtricity, this is generation green.”
Three complaints were received regarding the television advertisement.
Complaint Issue 1:
Two complainants considered the advertisement to be misleading as it implied that the power supplied by the company was all sourced from wind power, and that the company were a ‘100% green energy company’. The complainants did not consider this to be the case.
Complaint Issue 2:
Two complainants considered the advertising to be false and designed to give the impression to consumers that they were buying 100% green electricity as opposed to fossil fuel generated electricity. One complainant said that the advertisers’ green source of electricity had a capacity factor of approximately 30% according to Eirgrid/SONI, and that this implied that the other 70% was produced by CO2 generating sources. He considered it was disingenuous to imply that all the advertisers’ power was wind generated.
The complainant also said that SSE Airtricity did not control the grid and therefore he considered that even if they could produce 100% green energy, they could not sell it to the consumer as there was no differentiation on the grid as to where the electrons have been sourced. He considered the advertisers were engaged in corporate greenwashing.
Complaint Issue 3:
One complainant stated that the advertisers operated an oil fired generating station at Tarbert in Co Kerry and that this was in conflict with the image they presented as a clean, low emissions source of electricity. He considered the advertisement to be misleading, false and disingenuous.
Complaint Issue 1
The advertisers said they were proud to provide 100% green energy to Irish home and business customers. They said that in 2017, all of the electricity they supplied to their customers (4.7 TWh) was from renewable energy sourced by SSE Airtricity, significantly abating over 1.5 million tonnes of harmful CO2 emissions on the island.
The advertisers said that all energy suppliers, including SSE Airtricity, operated in an actively regulated market in the Republic of Ireland and as such electricity and gas suppliers were required to comply with the obligations of their supply licence when conducting their electricity and gas supply business, including adhering to obligations mandated upon suppliers by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) relating to such matters as the presentation of their fuel sources (as required under European legislation), and how they marketed to customers.
The advertisers said that their 100% renewable energy supply was substantiated by the latest Information Note on Fuel Mix Disclosure and CO2 Emissions for 2017, published by the CRU on 14 September 2018 and that this was the most up‐to‐date independent verification of each supplier’s fuel mix in the electricity market. The Fuel Mix Disclosure and CO2 Emissions report for 2017 confirmed that 100% of the energy that SSE Airtricity supplied to its electricity customers in Ireland was from renewable sources (1). They said they were proud to be independently verified by the Regulator in this way, and reflected this in their promotional and marketing materials.
The advertisers said that it was important to note that fuel mix disclosure was required under European legislation and was a process for calculating how green a supplier was. They said that under Regulation 25 of S.I. No. 60 of 2005, which transposed Article 3(6) of the Electricity Directive (2003/54/EC), the CRU was required to ensure that all suppliers provided reliable information about their fuel mix on bills and promotional materials sent to customers, and that all suppliers were required to adhere to these obligations.
They said that this information was to include the contribution of each energy source to the overall fuel mix of each supplier and the associated environmental impacts in the preceding year. They said they were satisfied that they met their obligations in this regard in the production of customer bills and promotional and marketing materials, including their website.
The advertisers provided the ASAI with the latest recorded fuel mix for SSE Airtricity general tariffs presentation. Under regulatory rules, every supplier operating in the Irish energy market, including SSE Airtricity, was required to show their own fuel mix (as per the latest publication date, September 2018) on the back of all of its customer electricity bills as well as on its website, and on marketing communications as appropriate (2).
SSE Airtricity Fuel Mix Disclosure: January 2017 to December 2017 % total Electricity supplied has been sourced from the following fuels: Electricity Supplied by SSE Airtricity Average for All Island Market (for comparison) Renewable 100% 44.5% Natural Gas 0% 40.0% Coal 0% 9.8% Peat 0% 4.9% EU Fossil 0% 0.0% Oil 0% 0.0% Nuclear 0% 0.0% Other 0% 0.9% TOTAL 100% 100% Environmental Impact CO2 Emissions 0 t/MWh 0.325 t/MWh
They said that they acted responsibly in the use of the term “100% green energy” as it was clear from the latest Information Note on Fuel Mix Disclosure and CO2 Emissions for 2017, as published by the CRU, that SSE Airtricity’s customers use 100% green energy, and that they were acting in accordance with their legal and regulatory obligations in the presentation of this information.
Complaint Issue 2:
In relation to the complaint that SSE Airtricity’s “green” source of electricity had a capacity factor of 30% approximately according to Eirgrid/SONI, implying inevitably that the other 70% was produced by CO2 generating sources whether OC/CCGT, diesel, CPP or biomass, the advertisers reiterated that a fuel mix disclosure was required for each and every electricity supplier operating in the all‐island Single Electricity Market under European legislation and was a process for calculating how green a supplier was. Under Regulation 25 of S.I. No. 60 of 2005, which transposed Article 3(6) of the Electricity Directive (2003/54/EC), CRU was required to ensure that all suppliers provided reliable information about their fuel mix on bills and promotional materials sent to customers, and all suppliers were required to adhere to these obligations, and that this information was to include the contribution of each energy source to the overall fuel mix of each supplier and the associated environmental impacts in the preceding year.
They said that, specifically, a Fuel Mix Disclosure was intended to verify the contribution of each energy source to the overall fuel mix of a supplier in an annual reporting period – electricity generators could choose how to attribute their generation and electricity suppliers must demonstrate where their power had been sourced from under a robust and well‐established methodology. They said that a Capacity Factor was an annual average load factor, representing a benchmark production volume from a typical technology in an average year.
They said that these two things were different – the complaint suggested that because a typical wind farm would be expected to produce a volume of energy equivalent to 30% of its installed capacity that this must mean that 70% of SSE Airtricity’s supply must be from fossil‐fuel generation. They said there was no basis for linking the former to the latter and it was a result of a misunderstanding of what fuel mixes and capacity factors represent. They said that a capacity factor did not provide any insight into what a supplier’s fuel mix may be because it did not give any insight into what renewable production was installed/contracted by that supplier, what volume was being produced, and how much demand was being supplied. They said that without this information, a load factor for a generic wind farm was meaningless for the purposes of assessing where a supplier was sourcing its energy.
The advertisers said that they were not the operator of Ireland’s transmission/distribution systems, and none of their marketing material would suggest that they claimed otherwise. They said that electricity was a homogenised commodity and it would be impossible to trace individual electrons from point of physical production to point of physical consumption.
They said, however, that it was possible for suppliers to demonstrate, and for an independent Calculating Body to verify (in Ireland’s case, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities under Regulation 25 of S.I. No. 60 of 2005, which transposed Article 3(6) of the Electricity Directive (2003/54/EC)), where a supplier’s electricity was sourced from.
They said that by contracting a volume of renewable electricity from generators equivalent to the demand of its customers, SSE Airtricity was proud to provide 100% green energy to Irish home and business customers. In order to verify that these claims were accurate, they said that a robust Fuel Mix Disclosure Methodology has been established by the Regulatory Authorities (CRU in the Republic of Ireland). They said that their 100% renewable energy supply was substantiated by the latest Information Note on Fuel Mix Disclosure and CO2 Emissions for 2017, published by CRU on 14 September 2018, which was the most up‐to‐date independent verification of each supplier’s fuel mix in the electricity market.
Complaint Issue 3
In relation to the claim that SSE Airtricity operated an oil fired generating station [620 MW] at Tarbert in Co. Kerry they said that Tarbert Power Station in Co Kerry was owned and operated by SSE Generation Ireland Ltd., a company registered in the Republic of Ireland that was a wholly‐owned subsidiary of SSE plc, registered in Perth, Scotland. They said that this company was entirely distinct from SSE Airtricity Ltd., which was a separate company registered in the Republic of Ireland and was a separate wholly‐owned subsidiary of SSE plc. While both companies were part of the SSE plc group, they operated independently of each other.
The advertisers said that SSE Generation Ireland Ltd. owned and operated four thermal generation plants in the Republic of Ireland, including the Great Island CCGT power station in Co. Wexford, and three peaking power stations at Tarbert in Co. Kerry, Rhode in Co. Offally, and Tawnaghmore in Co. Mayo.
They said that each peaking station, including the named power station at Tarbert, produced a very limited volume of electricity each year, and the primary function of each of these stations was to provide reliable back‐up electricity capacity to the national electricity grid during periods of peak demand or system stress, and when called upon to do so by the grid operator, EirGrid/SONI. They said that the electricity supply from Tarbert and other SSE thermal plant was sold directly into the Single Electricity Market arrangements as operated by EirGrid/SONI, and was not attributable to SSE Airtricity Ltd.
They said that the Single Electricity Market arrangements required all generators above a certain installed capacity threshold, including SSE Generation Ireland Ltd., to make their physical production volume available for any supplier to purchase and that, unless the production from these units was assigned to a specific supplier, this electricity would be incorporated into a “Residual Mix” and assigned to suppliers who have not contracted sufficient renewable (or other) generation attributed to meet their customer demand.
Complaints Not Upheld.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response.
Complaint Issues 1 and 2:
The Complaints Committee noted that while the television advertisement had used imagery to represent electricity sourced from fossil fuels and from green energy, it had not stated or implied that the advertisers’ only source of green energy was wind power. The Committee considered that the advertisement’s message was that the advertisers supplied 100% green energy which had been substantiated by reference to the CRU’s Information Note on Fuel Mix Disclosure and CO2 Emissions for 2017 which showed that 100% of the electricity supplied by the advertisers was sourced from renewables. Whilst not upholding the complaint, the Committee considered that a statement in the advertisement pointing to the CRU report would add clarity.
The Complaints Committee considered that the advertisement’s claim related to SSE Airtricity and not to other companies referenced in the complaint.
The Complaints Committee suggested that consideration be given to adding a super to the commercial that the substantiation for the 100% green claims was based on the report by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU).