Ecotricity Starts British Campaign to 'Save Our Boilers'

The green energy company plans to make gas from grass. But does this make sense?

Ecotricity Green Gas


Ecotricity is a British company that sells renewable electricity made from wind, sun, and water. Sami Grover interviewed its founder, Dale Vince, for Treehugger, calling him "an off-grid hippie who created a wind energy empire." But most British homes are heated with hot water from gas boilers, and Vince sells gas as well as electricity. A few years ago he pitched the idea for making "green gas" or biomethane made from grass which is then turned into methane in anaerobic digesters. It got a lot of coverage back in 2016 when he released his proposal (PDF here) but not much has been heard about it since.

Save Our Boilers!


Until now, when Vince launched a campaign with The Daily Express newspaper to "Save Our Boilers" when most energy experts and the government want to rip out the boilers and replace them with all-electric heat pumps. Vince claims his green gas would create thousands of jobs and let people keep their existing boilers.

He tells The Express:

"Green Gas is a perfect example of what the green economy has to offer us, if we get it right: zero carbon emissions, long-term sustainable jobs and industries, diversification from the old to the new and making room for nature. The beauty of our green gas is that business can go on as normal. We don't need to change any gas mains infrastructure to put our green gas into the gas grid and, more importantly, consumers will not need to change any of their appliances at home."

Burning biomethane, or green gas, still releases carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, just like regular methane. However, Ecotricity's head of generation says it's not the same thing.

"When grass grows it absorbs CO2. We make biomethane with that grass and when that is burned it releases the CO2 back into the atmosphere. So this green gas is carbon-neutral over a very short time-frame - six months from absorption to release. Fossil gas, by comparison, is releasing CO2 that is not in the atmosphere now and has been locked up for millions of years."

Vince does a compelling explanation of Green Gas on this video from 2019, and explains on his website: "We estimate that if we grow grass on all the marginal land in Britain, we’ll be able to make enough green gas to supply the entire country." Others are not so sure about this.

"Deeply Irresponsible"

The Green Gas from Gas proposal has been controversial from the start. Back in 2016, Biofuel Watch did a takedown of it that listed a number of problems, notably how much land it would take up, and then noting:

"This, however, is not the only climate-related concern: firstly, upgrading biogas to biomethane requires the CO2 contained in the biogas (which comes from the carbon in the grass )– up to 45% of the total volume – to be emitted straight into the atmosphere, without burning. Secondly, and more worryingly, both biogas digestion and upgrading to biomethane are associated with methane leaks. Depending on the scale of those leaks, biomethane could have a seriously adverse climate impact. Little data exists about actual methane leakage rates from such plants."

Why now?

Recently, fugitive methane emissions have become a very big deal, with nations pledging to slash methane emissions, so the timing of this campaign seems to be a bit off. As Treehugger reporter Eduardo Garcia writes, "The world urgently needs to drastically reduce methane emissions so that the worst effects of climate change—including devastating wildfires, more powerful hurricanes, and severe droughts—don’t become the new normal."

Or perhaps the timing isn't off at all. Perhaps is all very calculated. Why is he doing this now?

Perhaps it is because, as The Express notes, it is just ahead of "the Government's controversial Heat And Buildings Strategy, which has been delayed amid reports of Cabinet battles over fears of an electoral backlash from the cost of phasing out gas boilers." That strategy leans toward all-electric heat pumps.

Perhaps it is because natural gas prices have exploded, and he is capitalizing on the fact that a feature of his plan is it would theoretically not be affected by the international price of natural gas.

Perhaps it is because he is seeing his opportunity slipping away, as many people come to realize that a molecule of biogenic carbon dioxide is really no different than a molecule of fossil carbon dioxide, and we would be better off just putting as little as possible into the atmosphere. That instead, we should be reducing demand for energy and then using renewables, the wind, sun, and water that Vince built his empire on.

Or perhaps he is just a cynical provocateur, and energy expert Jan Rosenow is correct: This is deeply irresponsible.