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How dirty is your electricity? Now you know

power-plant-chimneysJust how polluting — or carbon-intense — is the UK’s electricity supply? A new online service launched today provides ongoing, real-time data on how much carbon dioxide is emitted for every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated in Britain.

By providing such information, Real Time Carbon aims to enable members of the public to choose to avoid energy consumption at times when power is at its dirtiest.

The amount of carbon dioxide associated with electricity generation changes all the time because of the continually changing mix of renewables, nuclear and fossil-fuel sources powering the grid. Changing the times in which electricity is used can therefore provide a new way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

As more renewable energy comes online, data from Real Time Carbon can also help individuals and businesses choose to use power more when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

While this kind of energy demand management is exactly what the Government hopes to achieve through its planned nationwide rollout of smart meters, there is no need to wait until 2020: using information from Real Time Carbon, everyone can start managing their consumption better now.

Real Time Carbon calculates the carbon intensity of the UK grid every five minutes. The Website was developed through collaboration between Dynamic Demand, AMEE and Demand Logic.

In addition to a clear display for people, the Website also offers a live data feed that can be read by machines. The Real Time Carbon team hopes this will be used in the near future to help to engineer appliances and buildings to use electricity when it is less polluting.

The new service was launched to kick-start the debate about how information like this can be used to inform decision-making across the whole spectrum of personal energy use, business practice, and — crucially — Government policy.

For example, emerging policies such as the UK Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) request that electricity use is monitored for every half hour; in reality, however, they only use a rolling 5-year average for the conversion of electricity into its carbon equivalent. By tuning such a policy to reward companies for using power when emissions are at their lowest levels, businesses could make a substantial impact on their emissions savings businesses and could help to reduce costs under the scheme.

“There are lots of appliances that could be designed to time their electricity use for when the national grid
is less polluting … washing machines, air conditioners, refrigerators, heating, industrial pumps and much
more,” said Joe Short, director of Dynamic Demand. “This is an excellent way to stimulate innovation and create a new market for ‘grid-smart’ electrical devices.”

“We believe that this form of intervention can help drive Britain to a low-carbon economy,” added Gavin Starks, founder and CEO of AMEE. “Understanding our carbon impact is crucial if we are to address the business-case for change. As businesses and individuals look to engage, access to information and data in a usable form are increasingly essential. Today this understanding has taken a huge step forward by demonstrating that this information both exists and can be brought to market. Helping organisations on their low-carbon journey will rely on trusted, authoritative and up-to-date data. Policy instruments and carbon accounting systems who fail to
address this market dynamic are not representing the true imact and are missing out on an opportunity to
drive change.”

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