Just what is “low hanging fruit”?

17th Feb 2020


We’ve all heard the expression; probably used it too. Its meaning is ‘the most easily achieved of a set of tasks, measures, goals, etc’ and we all understand what it means. We all know too, how work goals are directed towards these easily reached items of produce.

But who determines what is within our grasp and on what basis?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard that decarbonising the off-gas grid sector is “low hanging fruit”. So let’s explore this a bit further to gain an understanding.

Yes, off the gas grid will mean that heating costs tend to be more expensive as unit energy prices are higher than mains gas. (yes oil prices do vary compared to gas but electric is four times more expensive and the gap will grow.) And we have to accept that typical off-grid fossil fuels emit more carbon, oil and coal are given as examples.

But that’s about it, publicly. I’m going to be controversial and add another factor, off grid means by definition, isolated or individual. Cutting off a whole street from mains gas will cause greater “political” problems than picking off individual homes.

But how realistic is the low hanging definition? Off grid houses tend to be older, therefore less well insulated. Off grid homes are disproportionately solid wall in construction, therefore more expensive to insulate, (in fact economically irrational to do so for the homeowner). Even external ambient temperatures are colder in rural areas than urban. All of these factors make it more difficult (by that say expensive) to heat a home using low temperature heating products such as heat pumps. (my point is not to criticise the technology, merely challenge the concept of low hanging fruit).

So is an alternative fuel the answer? And if so, where does this put current government policy? BioLPG ticks the carbon box, so does bio-heating oil. Connecting to the gas grid, with Clean Gas, yes that’s got to be a realistic option too.

But a word of warning. Off grid households will not like being guinea-pigs in decarbonising heat, especially if they have to pay upfront for change (there being no methodology or basis for socialising costs as there might be on-grid).

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CEO