Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Switching off your lights has a bigger impact than you might think, says new study

Date:
July 1, 2010
Source:
Imperial College London
Summary:
Switching off lights, turning the television off at the mains and using cooler washing cycles could have a much bigger impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power stations than previously thought, according to a new study. Researchers in the UK show that the figure used by government advisers to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide saved by reducing people's electricity consumption is up to 60 percent too low.

Switching off lights, turning the television off at the mains and using cooler washing cycles could have a much bigger impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions from power stations than previously thought, according to a new study published this month in the journal Energy Policy. The study shows that the figure used by government advisors to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide saved by reducing people's electricity consumption is up to 60 percent too low.

Related Articles


The power stations that supply electricity vary in their carbon dioxide emission rates, depending on the fuel they use: those that burn fossil fuels (coal, gas and oil) have higher emissions than those driven by nuclear power and wind. In general only the fossil fuel power stations are able to respond instantly to changes in electricity demand.

Dr Adam Hawkes, the author of the new study from the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, says the government should keep track of changing carbon emission rates from power stations to ensure that policy decisions for reducing emissions are based on robust scientific evidence. The new study suggests that excluding power stations with low carbon emission rates, such as wind and nuclear power stations, and focussing on those that deal with fluctuating demand would give a more accurate emission figure.

Scientists advising government on for the best ways to reduce electricity demand currently use an estimated figure for emission rates. The new study shows that, at 0.43 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed, this figure is 60 percent lower than the actual rates observed between 2002 and 2009 (0.69 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour), meaning that policy studies are underestimating the impact of people reducing their electricity use.

Dr Adam Hawkes, author of the paper, and a Visiting Fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, said: "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.

"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," added Dr Hawkes.

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. Finally, he took these two sets of data to calculate the emissions rate that should be attributed to a small change in electricity demand.

The results show that, for 2002-09, the carbon dioxide emission rate for estimating the effect of a small change in electricity demand is 0.69 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed. This is 30 percent higher than the average emissions rate across all power stations, which is 0.51 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour, and 60 percent higher than the figure currently used by government advisors, which is 0.43 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour.

Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of Imperial's Grantham Institute for Climate Change, said: "This is a very important study that could help policy makers make more informed decisions to reduce our carbon emissions. The government needs a good understanding of the figures it uses to support policy analysis, because this has a big impact on which technologies we employ to reduce our energy use. With a more accurate picture of what is going on, we will be much better equipped to tackle our carbon dioxide emissions."

This research was funded by the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Imperial College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. A.D. Hawkes. Estimating marginal CO2 emissions rates for national electricity systems. Energy Policy, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2010.05.053

Cite This Page:

Imperial College London. "Switching off your lights has a bigger impact than you might think, says new study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100630101022.htm>.
Imperial College London. (2010, July 1). Switching off your lights has a bigger impact than you might think, says new study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100630101022.htm
Imperial College London. "Switching off your lights has a bigger impact than you might think, says new study." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100630101022.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Earth & Climate News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

Raw: Lava on Track to Hit Hawaii Market

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) Lava from an active volcano on Hawaii's Big Island slowed slightly but stayed on track to hit a shopping center in the small town of Pahoa. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Birds Might Be Better Meteorologists Than Us

Newsy (Dec. 19, 2014) A new study suggests a certain type of bird was able to sense a tornado outbreak that moved through the U.S. a day before it hit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Arctic Warming Twice As Fast As Rest Of Planet

Arctic Warming Twice As Fast As Rest Of Planet

Newsy (Dec. 18, 2014) The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, thanks in part to something called feedback. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins