“Energy” or “Electricity”, that is the question

When I was watching the NOS news flash in which the news anchor confused “electricity” with “energy needs” (see previous post), I initially assumed that this probably just was an unfortunate mistake, but when I went back to the tweet and scrolled down, I found this comment (translated from Dutch):

I have a strong suspicion that energy needs and electricity consumption are mixed up once again. Happens all the time.

Happens all the time? That sounds interesting! It could shed a new light on that news flash if the news crew not only produced the mixed up statement, but also are repeating it on a regular basis.

So I fired up a search engine and searched for instances of statements confusing energy needs and electricity consumption. I was very surprised how incredibly easy it was to find examples of such instances where both are mixed up…

For example, there is this article on South Korean nuclear power plants stating (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Moon would therefore like to focus on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy and green power from biomass. 20 percent of the energy needs of the country should be covered by clean energy in 2030.

It is true that South Korea wants a share of 20% renewables by 2030 (my emphasis):

Under the plan, South Korea aims to expand the share of renewables in 2030 to 20% of generated electricity, […]

Electricity, that is. So when the journalist writes “energy needs”, he in fact means “electricity share”. Which are two distinct things. Electricity is only one element of the energy needs of South Korea, it is not all of it as seems to be suggested.

In another article about the Swiss referendum on renewable energy the share of hydro, solar and wind is mentioned (my emphasis):

At present, most of the Swiss energy needs is served by hydro power, 60 percent. 35 percent by nuclear energy and 5 percent by solar and wind energy.

Indeed, according to the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, the share of hydro is 59.6%, that of nuclear is 31.2% and that of renewables is 4% in 2017 … when it comes to electricity generation:

Also here, the journalist wrote about “electricity generation”, but called it “energy needs”, although electricity is only one element of the energy needs of Switzerland.

Another example, this is stated in an article on the nuclear plants in Japan after Fukushima (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Before the tsunami, Japan depended for 30 percent of its energy needs on nuclear energy.

However, this is what for example Wikipedia writes about Nuclear power in Japan before the tsunami (my emphasis):

Japan had generated 30% of its electrical power from nuclear reactors and planned to increase that share to 40%.

So, also here, “energy” is used when in fact “electricity” is meant. The share of nuclear power in the energy needs of Japan before Fukushima was less than that 30%.

By now it could be tempting to assume that the NOS news crew equals “energy needs” to “electricity”. Can’t we then just replace “energy” by “electricity” when we read a NOS article or listen to the NOS news?

Well, not exactly. There are also other articles in which “energy needs” is used as “total energy needs”. For example in an article on Shell and its stance on the energy transition (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

The share of electricity in our energy needs increases by 18 percent to 26 percent in 2030 and to 50 percent in 2060

The journalist who wrote this sentence should be perfectly aware that electricity is only a subset of our energy needs. Its share is even quantified in this article: 18% of our energy needs is provided by electricity.

Here is another example in an article about the search for alternatives for heat by gas (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Forty percent of energy needs in the Netherlands is heat. Heating of houses, offices and factories is done almost exclusively using natural gas.

Here “energy needs” is also used as meaning “total energy consumption”, from which heat is a subset. The journalist who wrote this should be aware that there is a difference between “energy” and “electricity”, also that one is a subset of the other.

If I now consider all examples, then I have to conclude that they are not just using “energy” when they mean “electricity”, but are using the exact same word for two distinct things. That is called equivocation and it clouds clear communication.

Not sure whether this is deliberate choice or just accidental. I hope the latter, but fear the former. The examples span several years (I found examples back to 2012), so I can’t imagine that nobody noticed it until now and brought it to the attention of the NOS news crew.

If the goal is to promote solar energy, then yes, it makes perfect sense to substitute the share of solar in the “energy needs” of the Netherlands by the share of solar in “electricity consumption”, which is much higher. Therefor inflating the numbers. It is much more motivational to claim that solar energy already provides “about” 2% of our “energy needs”, it suggests that the share of solar energy is much larger than it is in reality (it is in fact only 0.46% of the energy needs of the Netherlands).

That is not exactly honest communication.

1 thought on ““Energy” or “Electricity”, that is the question

  1. poitsplace

    For some people it’s an honest mistake. For others it may well be an attempt to cover up the scale of the problem to make people think its easier to shift to renewables…or on other topics, to meet whatever goal they would impose on others.

    The media is complicit. It might not be a brazen sort of “complicit”, where they’re aware. But it is their job to ask the questions “Well how much energy do we actually use and how much of that is electricity?” But instead they have a powerful liberal bias that makes them all but blind to any subject like this. They let the other person steer the interviews, never asking or criticizing. And for any critics of such misinformation they will allow any sort of nonsensical answer…and sometimes even go so far as vilifying anyone that would dare to question what they consider to be an unquestionable goal.

    This is big part of the reason the majority of the people no longer trust the mainstream media. They truly cannot be trusted. In reality, they are the most widely consumed form of “fake news”. And most people have at least some understanding of that.



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