Reducing CO2: Conversion Factors

There is a simple way of reducing CO2 emissions year on year without having to put any effort in at all. It requires no changing of habits, reduction in energy use or in fact any changes at all. Just by continuing to use the same amount of energy each year a reduction in carbon production can be met. This is possible due the way carbon emissions are calculated.

There are two ways. Firstly greenhouse gases can be measured by recording emissions at the source of production by continuous emissions monitoring. The second method is by estimating the amount of gases emitted using the amount of electricity consumed and applying a relevant conversion factor. This second approach is the more common and easiest to apply for individuals and organisations.

Typically when electricity is bought through a supplier it will come from the National Grid which all power stations feed into. Consumers have very little overall control of the kind of power station that was used to generate their electricity; whether it be gas, oil, coal, nuclear etc. The exception being “Green Tariffs” that ensure a percentage of electricity generated comes from renewable sources. As a result when calculating CO2 emission a conversion factor is applied to the amount of electricity consumed.

The conversion factor  “represent the average CO2 emission from the UK national grid per kWh of electricity used at the point of final consumption”. It is a general indicator as to how much CO2 is produced by the entire grid in order to generate the electricity that is eventually consumed.

The conversion factor has been on a general decline since the 1990s (chart 1). As more of our energy is generated from renewable sources this figure will continue to decline.

Conversion Factor by Year 1990-2010

Consumers buying the same amount of electricity will over time actually reduce their carbon footprint without any changes on their end. Renewable energy is set to move from 3% in 2009 to 15% of the total by 2020 according to Government targets. We can therefore expect the conversion factor to continue its downward trend.

Edit: The data for the conversion factors can be found here on DEFRA


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