Let’s get the language right, for a better understanding.

24th Feb 2020


How we decarbonise the UK is difficult enough a question to answer, without it being complicated by “loose” language used in the debate. Twice in recent PMQs, the PM Boris Johnson has made claims about “decarbonised energy” when he actually means “decarbonised electricity”. The two are very different.

Now being kind, I accept he has a lot on his plate and it is a bear-pit atmosphere, so misunderstanding the difference is entirely possible. On the other hand, the decarbonised electricity generation figure is considerably higher than energy overall, so it does exaggerate the success. I’ll leave you to make up your mind about which argument is most likely to be true.

BEIS, however, should know better. But examining the latest Public Attitude tracker (Wave 32) either they don’t, or they too are playing fast and loose with the English language. Let me go into the background further.
They asked a series of questions about “renewable heating systems” and helpfully defined what was meant by “renewable”. In their own words (P19 of the report) they state “By renewable heat we mean heating systems which use energy from biomass or the sun, or which use electricity to draw heat from the ground, water or air to heat your home.” Renewable heating systems are stated to include ASHPs, GSHPs and biomass boilers.

Here the Johnson Rule kicks in. The electricity used to draw heat is not necessarily “renewable”. Nor is it ever likely to be. Nuclear is not renewable, it is low carbon, so let’s say this instead. Wind, solar, hydro and tidal power generation might be renewable, but gas and coal aren’t. Nor is imported electricity likely to be. So it is false advertising to say these heating systems are currently “renewable”. After 2030 they might be low carbon if the electricity network does decarbonise, but not now.
But also notice that biogas boilers – biomethane/bioLPG are not treated the same way as a biomass boiler. Odd that? In the same way that an ASHP could be “renewable” after 2030 when the power grid is decarbonised, then a current gas boiler using 100% biomethane should also be classed as “renewable”.

Anyone would think that some in BEIS simply don’t like “gas” central heating systems.