What is "Blue Electricity"?
Posted by Pete Hague on 23 Apr 2012
There is an advert on British television for an electricity tariff from the French-owned energy company EDF. This is hardly blog-worthy in itself, but this particular advert confused me and my wife because they took the unusual step of selling a different kind of electricity - "blue electricity". I assumed that this was just an odd branding choice, but decided to investigate a little further anyway.
It turns out that, despite the name being seemingly made up by the company, blue electricity is actually a thing. Just as "green electricity" evokes images of lush, rolling hillsides to promote renewable energy, "blue electricity" evokes the gentle glow of electrons exceeding the speed of light in their local medium…
Yep, "blue electricity" is simply what we are calling nuclear power these days. Despite there being no mention of nuclear energy in the TV ads, and despite the company website not immediately making this clear, the tariff is a way for consumers to buy nuclear energy as directly as is possible through the national grid. To the best of my knowledge, this option has not been available before.
I understand that perhaps the marketing department wanted to focus on the price aspects, but I think it is a sad state of affairs when what is arguably a vital part of our post-carbon energy development has to be talked about in euphemistic terms in order to avoid a controversy (or, at the very least, avoid a negative reaction that would detract from the other benefits of their new tariff.)
You can learn something about a society, especially about British society, by looking at what people don't want to talk about. Taboos give windows into people's fears, especially in an otherwise permissive culture. For another example, there is an advert on television for antacid tablets. The advert attempts to explain how they work, stating that the tablets react with stomach acid to form "water and other natural substances". Antacids are generally carbonates, so anyone who remembers school chemistry knows this reaction well; the other two 'natural substances' are carbon dioxide and a salt. Clearly, we fear salt (at least, table salt) for its health impacts and carbon dioxide for its role in climate change, even though neither effect is relevant for someone buying antacids.
The worst part it, EDF Energy owns all the nuclear power plants in the UK (after a failed attempted at privatisation - our nuclear industry was sold to a private company, which was then bought out by EDF. Our nuclear industry is therefore still state owned, just not by our state.) So the spokesman for the entire UK nuclear industry is their cute orange advertising mascot, who quite tellingly, doesn't have a mouth.
I personally think that well managed nuclear power is essential to our future, but I am willing to hear the other side of the debate. But how can we have such a debate when people have to tiptoe around the word 'nuclear'?
Posted by Rob Hague on 25 Apr 2012
If I'm going to be picking and choosing geberation methods at the consumer end, what I'd actually like is a tarif that includes nuclear *and* renewables, but no fossil fuels. Cyan energy, perhaps?
Posted by pete on 25 Apr 2012
Yes, perhaps energy companies could offer a colour guide like the ones you get when buying paint?