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Jargon-Buster: Renewable Energy

In this rapidly changing industry, even insiders can feel baffled by the terminology. Our jargon-buster helps you understand some of the more common terms – and provides guidance to help you use them wisely.

Renewable Energy Definitions

The phrases used in the renewable energy industry can be confusing – whether you’re trying to speak to someone in the industry or outside of it.

I ran a LinkedIn poll of a few popular industry terms that people find confusing – ones that are bandied about frequently without explanation or that are used incorrectly. You can see the results to the right:

Our green-energy jargon-buster helps define key terms to help you write about renewables with more clarity – and could help you avoid some pitfalls and misconceptions. 

From Carbon Offsetting to Net Zero, we cover some of the most popular renewable energy terms being used right now. But you could write a book on confusing terms in this industry, so this is just the tip of the (sadly melting) iceberg. 


Many people think bio-fuels are fuels made only from plant matter, so if you’re talking about bio-fuels made from other sources, such as animal waste, you need to clarify. 

But a more important issue around bio-fuels is whether they are actually good or bad, so if you’re writing or talking about them, you need to set them in their full context because the issue isn’t as clear-cut as it appeared a decade ago. 

Bio-fuels can, in some cases, be very bad for the planet indeed, and most people in the industry are aware of this. So unless you clarify the issues around the bio-fuel you are discussing, your article or speech is going to be treated with a high level of disregard by those in the know, undermining any of your other points. 


Many people outside the industry do not really understand what this means and don’t understand how it differs from bio-fuel. 

According to the US Department of Energy, “Unlike other renewable energy sources, biomass can be converted directly into liquid fuels, called “bio-fuels,” to help meet transportation fuel needs. The two most common types of bio-fuels in use today are ethanol and biodiesel, both of which represent the first generation of biofuel technology.” 

Don’t mix up the terms – and when using ‘bio-mass’, provide a brief explanation if there’s any chance your readers or listeners might be confused about the difference.


Carbon Capture – sometimes called CCUS, which stands for Carbon Capture Use and Storage – is the process of taking carbon dioxide from the environment, typically by capturing it at source, such as from power stations and industrial facilities, but also directly from the air. It is then either put to use or stored in ‘Carbon Storage’, the latter of which is particularly controversial. 

Find out more about Carbon Capture and Carbon Storage in this article from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

And bear in mind that the best solution is to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere, rather than creating CO2 and then capturing it.


Similar to Zero Carbon or Net Zero, this is a concept adored by governments and big business, but even many consumers now realise that Carbon Offsetting is largely nonsense. 

The idea that you can pollute as much as you like, then pay someone to ‘unpollute’ or to ‘pollute less’ to balance it out simply doesn’t wash any more. If you decide to use this term as a positive, do it knowing that it is not very convincing, and accept that your idea could be considered greenwashing.


According to this admittedly old-ish article from The Carbon Trust, “Decentralised energy is not yet a widely understood term, but broadly refers to energy that is generated off the main grid, including micro-renewables, heating and cooling. It can refer to energy from waste plants, combined heat and power, district heating and cooling, as well as geothermal, biomass or solar energy.” 

The fact that even The Carbon Trust recognises that this term isn’t understood by many should be enough of a warning for you when you use it. 

That’s not to say it should be off-limits, but it does mean that you need to provide a clear explanation of what you’re talking about very early on in your article, speech or white paper. Check out The Association for Decentralised Energy to help clarify the topic for yourself – and your readers. 


This one’s pretty basic, right? Wrong. People use this term incorrectly all the time – including me. If what you mean is ‘electricity’, ‘oil’, ‘gas’ or another term specifically, use that. 

‘Energy’ shouldn’t be used when you mean ‘electricity’ – perhaps the most common way it’s misused, This can lead to misunderstandings for your audience. 

A classic example of misuse is when the UK government says, “We get most of our energy from renewables.” At the time of writing, the UK gets more than 50% of its electricity from renewables, but that’s only about 20% of its total energy use, with the other 80% split between non-electrical heating and transport, where renewable energy has a much lower penetration. 

Just remember: ‘energy’ is a broad term that encompasses lots of different forms that are used for many purposes, so don’t use it to talk about specifics. 

On the other hand, if you’re talking about multiple types of energy, then it’s fine to use ‘energy’ in your headline or as an intro. But do make sure to clarify which ones you’re covering pretty soon afterwards.


The move away from fossil fuels to greener forms of energy, this is a term that is fairly clear to those in the know, and completely unclear to those who aren’t familiar with it. Judge your audience here. If you’re only speaking to those in the industry, it probably doesn’t need an explanation. But for any other use, such as online or academic articles that might be read by the general public, then it probably does. 

If you’re not sure if you need to explain this, try the classic writer’s trick. Ask a friend or relative who isn’t in the industry, or post on social media asking your networks – if that’s your target audience – if they know what ‘energy transition’ means. That should guide you as to whether you need to provide a brief explanation or not.


This means something that transfers energy from one place or time to another. Yet it’s frequently misused – and always sounds pretentious. 

If you’re trying to describe an energy source, just name the source. And if you’re trying to explain something that is actually being used to transfer energy, the term ‘energy carrier’ is probably better and more widely understood. 


This type of heating supplies heat to a large number of consumers from a central source. It could be as small as a single boiler in an apartment building, but it is more often used to talk about larger areas, such as a central system in a town or city used to supply heat to thousands of people. You can read more about it here

People in the industry probably know what this means, but if you’re speaking to the general public, they usually won’t, so do clarify.


Often confused with Zero Carbon (see below), in most cases, companies who claim that they are currently achieving Net Zero use Carbon Offsetting (see above) to try to prove that – mathematically, at least – their carbon emissions are zero. However, as Carbon Offsetting is now considered to be pretty much nonsense and Zero Carbon is not currently possible, you can see how this is a form of greenwashing.

The other use of the term, however, is the goal that governments have to achieve Net Zero by 2050, which involves significant investments into renewable energies, among other things. The objective is to massively reduce carbon emissions in the first place, then use other technologies, such as carbon capture, to deal with the unavoidable emissions created during a product’s life cycle. Whether this will be achieved is another question. 


There’s a whole page on Wikipedia that does a fairly decent job of explaining this concept, but essentially, it’s about electricity conversion. 

You take some electricity and convert it into a form that’s used to meet an energy need. But by using ‘Power to X’ to describe the process, what you have is a confusing mess. 

You might think using these types of phrases make you seem highbrow or in-the-know, but in reality, all you are doing is confusing many of your readers – which will make them click away from your article, or tune out of your speech. 

Just say what you mean. Instead of ‘P-to-X’, how about ‘Converting Wind Energy into Hydrogen’. See? Now you’re cooking with gas – LPG or hydrogen. Your choice.


Some people think this is just solar, wind, hydro, wave, geothermal and biomass. Others say it includes any type of energy generation that is more environmentally friendly than oil and gas, so that might also include nuclear, biofuels, energy recovery from landfill and more. 

You can debate this until the cows come home, or you can just do the same as you would for ‘Energy’ and clarify precisely what you’re talking about very quickly.  


One thing that is clear about Sector Coupling is that nobody can agree what it means

Broadly, it’s about connecting different types of systems or energy, but it’s defined as different things in different sectors. If you’re giving a speech to a select group of people in your sector who are all on the same page, then you’re probably OK to use it. 

But even then, clarifying exactly what you mean – and using infographics never hurts – is always a good idea. And if you’re publishing something online, whether your company website, an industry publication or even LinkedIn, do not use this term without clarifying exactly what you mean right from the start.


This is such a nonsense term. Its use should be binned altogether, but it’s much beloved by governments and companies engaged in PR spin. 

As anyone with even the most basic knowledge of science knows, there is currently no such thing as Zero Carbon if you have made a thing or need to transport a thing. Carbon emissions are released at all stages of a product’s life, from the development of the materials, to transport, build, usage and disposal. 

But just for clarity, what people sometimes mean by ‘Zero Carbon’ is that something isn’t releasing carbon into the atmosphere in its daily life. They’re just ignoring all the carbon emissions at all the other stages of the product’s life cycle.

You know what’s Zero Carbon? Plants. But not ones you’ve transported around the globe – or even from down the road. Just the natural ones in the wild. In fact, they’re often negative carbon – a term you should only use for products you are offering if you want to receive a great deal of scorn.

Someone has brought out ‘Carbon Negative’ knitwear. That’s right. Not only are they ignoring all the carbon emissions in the life cycle of their clothing, but they’re actually saying that the growth and feeding of the sheep, the shearing of them, the transport of the wool and the clothing, and manufacture of the items are producing negative carbon. Clearly, this is mathematically impossible. Or perhaps the United Nations needs to be alerted to this new advance in the battle against climate change. With such an innovation, if everyone on earth were to buy a jumper or hoodie from this shop, climate change would be solved. Excellent.

If you’re not talking about naturally wild plants, you’re not achieving Zero Carbon. This term is greenwashing at its worst. Avoid.


If you need help writing about renewables for your audience, whether industry or the general public, we can help. At Proof Content, we are experts at taking complex topics and turning them into understandable articles, social media posts and white papers. Let’s chat.

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