Small electricity savings equal big emissions cuts

People who make small green changes are sometimes criticized by colleagues, friends and families for their efforts. They are told things like “that won’t make a difference”.

As I outlined “Simple Green Actions Work” and quite a few other articles; when millions of people make an effort, however small, it really does add up. Additionally, it can be seriously de-motivating to rubbish small efforts as people who get on the green path often start out with small steps before tackling larger issues relating to the environmental impact in their lives.

For folks in the UK (perhaps it applies elsewhere too) it seems new research has found simple actions such as switching off lights when not in use have a much bigger impact that previously thought.

A study published in the journal Energy Policy shows that the figure used by government advisors to estimate the carbon emission reductions involved with saving electricity are up to 60 percent too low.

Dr Adam Hawkes from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London drew on 60 million data points relating to power production during each half-hour period by every 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 power station, then calculated the emissions rate that should be attributed to a small change in electricity demand.

The results show that for 2002-09, emission rates were 0.69 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed, 30% more than the average emissions rate across all power stations and 60% higher than the figure currently used by UK government advisors, which is currently 0.43 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour.

You can read more about the study here.

To those of you in the UK who have tolerated being scorned for whatever small efforts you make to reduce electricity consumption – congratulations; stand tall and proud!

It would be interesting to see the same sort of study conducted in other countries too. In fact, it’s probably very important that it happens as other countries may be working with figures that grossly underestimate emissions associated with electricity generation – and that could have huge ramifications in the battle against skyrocketing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Looking for more easy ways to cut back on electricity use? Check out my tips for saving electricity.