How much energy does the ‘greenest government’ get through?

They may not be the greenest, but they should be one of the warmest

William Warby

Cast your mind back five years to 2010. The tallest building in the world had been open just a few months. The World Cup was around the corner, and people genuinely thought England had a chance. And the United Kingdom got its first coalition government since the Second World War.

Politicians aren’t exactly known for their plain speaking, so when David Cameron declared shortly after taking office that his would be “the greenest government ever” it was a bit of a surprise. There isn’t really anywhere to hide with a statement like that, and so it is perhaps predictable that the Government have since been roundly panned for failing to live up to this promise.

In 2014, the leader of the Green Party Nathalie Bennett labelled the idea of them being the greenest government ever “a sick joke”.  Later that same year, a cross-party committee of MP’s produced something akin to a bad school report, deeming their environmental efforts worthy of a “red card”. Ouch.

This report covered ten key areas of the environment, from air pollution to flooding, but there’s one thing they didn’t even touch on: energy consumption.

Turning your thermostat down a few notches, or switching off your heating completely when you’re not in, is something everyone can do to go a little bit greener. If Cameron wanted to make his government more kind on the environment, surely he would have started, like the rest of us, at home?

Energy use in the Palace of Westminster

Politicians have far more holiday time than you’d expect – 74 days in 2014, plus weekends and public holidays – and that means there’s a substantial amount of time when the seat of the UK Parliament, the Palace of Westminster, sees a lot less use than usual. Sure, there are plenty of civil servants at work still, and the tourists don’t stop coming, but the bulk of the committee rooms lie unused for weeks at a time.

Thanks to the CarbonCulture project, which for the last year and a half has published hour-by-hour data on how much energy the Palace of Westminster is using, we can see if people are remembering to turn off their computers when they leave.

The red vertical lines mark the start of Parliamentary recesses (holidays), while green vertical lines show when MPs were supposed return to work.

There are a couple of things to take from this graph, and some make for a lot better reading than others.

Firstly, it’s clear that someone is going around and turning the lights off on Friday evening: the waves in the electricity and gas consumption line up perfectly with the weekends. Fewer people are in at the weekend, so they don’t need to use as much energy. Top marks there.

There’s also good news in the gas and electricity consumption during recesses. Despite the fact that the building is hired out for exclusive dinner parties and the like during recesses, energy consumption is generally lower when Parliament isn’t sitting. Excellent stuff.

It’s not all rosy though. If you’re someone who prefers to keep warm with jumpers rather than put the heating on, now might be a good time to look away.

Apparently it’s not easy to keep an old Victorian palace warm, because they get through a truly gigantic amount of gas.

At its peak on the 2nd February 2015 – the coldest day of the year so far, in fairness – gas consumption was 109,865 kWh in a single day. That’s enough to meet the needs of the average UK household 6 times over. For an entire year.

The annual figures are just as eye watering. In 2014, the palace got through 1,426,321 kWh of gas and a staggering 13,931,551 kWh of electricity – enough to supply 4,221 homes.

Forget emissions regulations and green subsidies – if the next Government really wants to be the greenest ever then it can start by getting MPs to wear woolly jumpers.