business sustainability

Ecotricity’s progress on green gas

A few years ago the energy company Ecotricity* launched the first ‘green gas’ tarriff on the UK market. The plan was to follow the same model as they did with electricity: sign people up, and use their bills to pay for the green energy infrastructure. Over time, they would be able to build out enough renewable energy capacity to deliver 100% clean energy.

Ecotricity has already met the 100% goal with electricity. Gas is a lot harder, and so far the green gas percentage is 4%. That will rise, and the main plan for that is the ‘green gas mills’ I’ve written about before. They will use anaerobic digestion from grass grown on marginal land.

Actually building these has been slower than the company planned, and so last week Ecotricity announced that they will offset all their gas sales. As CEO Dale Vince says, it’s an “interim step” until they can raise production from the new gas plants.

Green gas is a really important technology, and one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. Most British homes are heated with gas. When people object to zero carbon targets, it’s often over gas – are we going to go around confiscating people’s boilers? It should go without saying that I wouldn’t support any plan that involves stripping people of their heating. (Though this being the internet, I apparently do have to say it.) Green gas is one part of the solution.

Here’s the context. This is a graph from the government’s briefing on decarbonising heat, showing emissions from heating:

In rapid summary, here’s the role I imagine that green gas could play:

  • First, all new homes and buildings are designed without gas. They don’t even need a grid connection. They are super insulated and use heat pumps and passive heat.
  • Older homes are refurbished to dramatically lower their heating needs. The average British home scores a D on energy efficiency and wastes hundreds of pounds worth of heat every year.
  • Gas for hot water is phased out in favour of solar hot water and electric. This can make use of smart heat batteries that bank heat for hot water at times of low demand.
  • Cooking with gas can be substantially reduced. I don’t think a ban would be helpful, but it will be gradually phased out over time.
  • With gas demand now greatly reduced, it can continue to play a role heating older homes, with an increasing percentage coming from green gas sources. That could be grass or post-harvest waste, animal dung from farms, sewage treatment plants or landfill.
  • Along with biogas, tweaks to the network would allow hydrogen to replace some or even all of the methane currently used, as proposed recently in the North of England. The hydrogen would be produced using renewable energy, making it a clean source of energy.

None of this is happening particularly fast, but it could happen a lot faster. If you want to support it, you could switch to Ecotricity today and your bills would help to pay for those green gas mills. (And if you use this link, you and I will both get a £25 voucher for the Ethical Store).

Here’s Dale Vince explaining their plans, with an admirably balanced opinion on the merits of offsetting. Incidentally, Ecotricity have declared a climate emergency and intend to be zero carbon by 2025, as a direct response to the call from Extinction Rebellion. That’s the benefit of having an environmental activist as CEO.

*In the interests of full disclosure, I am both a customer and an investor in Ecotricity – though investor sounds like grand word for my handful of Ecobonds. I’m not writing about them because I gain financially. I’m writing about them for the same reason that I invested, which is the pioneering and potentially transformative nature of their business model.

2 comments

  1. On cooking with gas, we recently changed to an induction hob and would never use gas again, even although we are both keen cooks and need a ‘proper’ hob. We get 3.5kW of instant heat on an easy-clean glass surface, and all the energy goes into the pan so we now get much faster cooking than we did with the old gas hob. We have even retired our 25 year old electric kettle – much repaired over the years – in favour of an ‘old-fashioned’ kettle, which at 3.5kW gives us boiling water very very fast. The only downside is that frying does not work as well since the sides of the frying pan do not get hot enough, but we have just had to re-learn how to fry.
    So in my view, we can get rid of cooking with gas.

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