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Making my (small) commitment to a low carbon future

Small changes to your lifestyle can make large changes to our collective carbon footprint, says NCE editor Antony Oliver

As Gordon Brown set out his plans for the UK's nuclear powered solution to climate change this week, I made my own commitment to a low carbon future by installing a smart electricity meter at home.

OK, the installation of my meter was a bit less dramatic than building a nuclear power station - in fact I just clipped it in place and installed a battery. But regardless of scale, our aims are aligned. We both ultimately want to reduce our reliance on fossil powered generation.

For my part, I have been busy finding out just how much it costs to run my kitchen/bedroom/landing/outside lights each day. I now know that it cost about 20p an hour to have the oven on, 50p an hour to run the dishwasher and between £1.10 and £1.30 a day to power the house with electricity.

My goal over the next three months is to begin to trim my usage. A 7.5% drop pays for the meter in one year. A 15% drop means I can also buy an energy efficient kettle. Beyond that my year-end target is to power the house on 75p a day.

Meanwhile Gordon's plan is also aimed at reducing carbon emissions - in his case by 20% over the next 20 years. But instead he anticipates the provision of unlimited carbon free electricity powering the nation.

And with this in mind, my fiddling at the edges perhaps seems a bit of a waste of time. After all, if we are to have a dozen new super power stations, pumping out as much cheap, clean, reliable power as we can use then is there any point in me (and you and your neighbours) saving a few kWhrs here and there?

Well yes there is. Firstly because even under Gordon's plan there is a clear acceptance that nuclear power does not hold all the answers but must sit firmly within the "low carbon energy mix". This includes renewables, gas, clean coal and energy efficiency measures and clearly the more we collectively save, the less electricity we have to generate.

And second, because lets face it, despite this week's warm words, there is no real likelihood that any new nuclear power station will be built and operating either this decade, the next or possibly the one after. The economics are wrong, the planning process isn't prepared and the private sector hasn't really got to grips with decommissioning liabilities.

Besides, if you believe the ICE's State of the Nation report this week, the industry wouldn't have the skills or capacity to build any new plants even if it wanted to - and if we did, construction inflation would rule them out.

So for all these reasons (and of course a few others to boot) my money is with the smart meter. It's not the complete solution to carbon reduction but it is at least deliverable today and at a known cost.

 Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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