Small Electricity Savings At Home Can Have Big Impact

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Common sense, every day actions such as switching off lights, unplugging appliances when not in use, reducing heating and washing clothes on cooler cycles may have a bigger impact on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions than previously estimated.

A new study published by the UK Energy Policy journal claims governmental advisors are using figures that are 60 per cent too low. Emissions from power stations vary depending on the fuel source, therefore the study suggests calculations exclude power stations with low carbon emission rates (such as wind and nuclear) and instead focus on those with fluctuating demand to get a more precise picture.

Current calculations estimate that each kilowatt hour of electricity consumed produces 0.43 kilogram of carbon dioxide. But that’s 60 per cent lower than what Dr. Adam Hawkes, a Visiting Fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, found.

To arrive at this conclusion, Dr. Hawkes drew upon 60 million data points showing the amount of electricity produced in each half-hour period by each power station in Great Britain from the start of 2002 to the end of 2009. He also calculated the emissions of each different type of generator by examining government data showing their average annual fuel use.

He then took these two sets of data to calculate the emissions rate that should be attributed to a small change in electricity demand. He concluded that the actual figure is 0.69 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, or 30 per cent higher than the average across all power stations (0.51 kilograms) and 60 per cent higher than the figure currently used by government advisors (0.43 kilogram).

“One way governments are trying to mitigate the effects of climate change is to encourage people to reduce their energy consumption and change the types of technologies they use in their homes. However, the UK government currently informs its policy decisions based on an estimate that, according to my research, is lower than it should be”, said Dr. Hawkes.

“This means any reduction we make in our electricity use – for example, if everyone switched off lights that they weren’t using, or turned off electric heating earlier in the year – could have a bigger impact on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by power stations than previously thought. However, this also acts in reverse: a small increase in the amount of electricity we use could mean a larger increase in emissions than we previously thought, so we need to make sure we do everything we can to reduce our electricity use,” he added.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, a Brazilian writer and video art curator based in London, UK. He holds a BA in journalism and an MA in film and television.

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