Carbon-intensive energy, such as coal, is required to meet nighttime demand for electricity in winter, while cleaner energy, such as solar, is more common during the day and in the summer months. Therefore, watching television on a cold winter night is worse for the environment than doing so on a sunny afternoon. On a technical level, installing LED lighting can in fact be more effective in reducing carbon emissions than installing solar power, depending on the timing of one’s consumption.

A report published by sustainability consultants at WSP focuses on the variability of carbon emissions, warning that substantial inaccuracies in current measurements may lead to poor decision making for new developments and investments. The report, titled An investigation into the use of temporal factors for CO2 emissions accounting in buildings, stresses that inaccurate results produced by the current system for measuring carbon emissions from buildings and businesses can have a significant impact on both the environment and corporate balance sheets.

Rethinking the Levy System

The report looks at the energy demands of three different types of buildings (retail, office, home), examining how CO2 emissions calculations differ between the single standard emissions factor method and an hourly emissions factor based on real electrical grid generation over a year. The research concludes that, with current calculations being based on how much energy is used, and not when it is used, the financial implications of inaccurate measurements can significantly alter the climate change levy paid by companies as a non-variable flat rate. In the UK, the current climate change levy is charged per kWh amount of electricity or gas consumed. However, two businesses consuming the same amount of energy could unknowingly produce very different levels of carbon emissions, while being charged the same amount through the climate change levy.

“Buildings and businesses are under increasing pressure to meet the legal requirements of reducing emissions, but it’s not as simple as counting a single number,” notes Barny Evans, a sustainability and energy expert at WSP. “Organizations with specific goals, such as carbon neutrality, may find that their current accounting is unknowingly leading them to implement policies and to take actions that result in higher or lower carbon emissions than they realize.”

In summary, the WSP report suggests that, as technology advances and the grid decarbonizes, a better system for measuring carbon emissions accurately will not only help reduce those emissions, but will also help to improve bottom lines.

Read our White Paper: CO2 emissions in buildings

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