How The Sun got it wrong on green energy costs

August 7, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

“Here we show how power is likely to be burning up your pounds by 2020,” The Sun wrote in July, under their graphic of RWE npower’s consumer energy forecast. Likely is clearly a subjective word, but a careful examination of the graphic suggests the UK’s best-selling newspaper is pushing it to its imaginative limits.

The data in question were npower’s predictions of how much average consumer energy bills will rise by 2020, and what factors will be responsible for the changes. In the report, npower claims the government’s energy efficiency and renewable energy policies are a key driver – labelled “green” – predicting that prices will rise from £1,247 in 2013 to £1,487 by 2020 (the Guardian reported on the npower predictions here).

The Sun, in a colour-coded effort to make the figures understandable, displayed the forecast as a bar graph. The problem was that the dimension of each bar’s coloured section, representing the four main components of energy bills, did not match the data. Take the 2013 bar as an example: “green” policies account for £185 of the total £1,247, whereas “production” is nearly three times larger at £565. The figures are displayed correctly, but the graph’s proportions are not. “Green” is a hulking great section of the bar at the bottom, with “production” in a slightly smaller section at the top. At a glance, the graph suggests green policies are the single biggest energy cost to a consumer, despite them actually being the smallest.

Here’s how the graph should have looked, with the Sun’s version for comparison:

Sun energy graph

The Sun was able to calculate accurately how big the 2020 bar should be compared to 2013. It is, it seems, not an issue of arithmetic. Instead, there was a distortion of the graph which exaggerates the economic cost of green energy policies. The move won the piece a re-posting on the website of the The Global Warming Policy Foundation, a group known for its campaigning against climate change action.

Barefaced climate change denial has become rarer in recent years, as the scientific evidence has become overwhelming and the debate has moved on to what actions need to be taken and how quickly. But, as The Sun’s misadventure in graphics has shown, those opposed to tackling global warming are still finding ways to spread their scepticism.

When asked to respond to my questions about their graphic, The Sun chose to make no comment. Instead, they removed the graph from the online article, which is now accessible only behind their paywall.

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