It seems the government's decision-makers have made up their minds that we need another set of nuclear power stations. Surely there's a better alternative?

I was having a word with a Conservation officer about a submission I'd made in Bedford Park last week.

"What are those things either side of the patent glazing?" she asked.

"My client is keen to use as little energy as possible and so that's a solar collector at either end of the lantern," I replied.

"I don't think so."

"What do you mean?"

"Well this is a conservation area; we want to keep it as it is."

Bedford Park was built near Turnham Green in west London in the 1920s. Back then it was the last word in daylighting, central heating and indoor plumbing, and if solar panels had existed no doubt they would have shown them off as proudly as they do their carved finials. Now that the dead hand of conservation has it in its narcoleptic grip, it risks becoming set in aspic - not that that has prevented the addition of asphalt pavements, double yellow lines, parking meters and sodium street lights, of course.

It is not going to be long before photovoltaics and the like are seriously mainstream technology. That means that they won't just appear on futuristic buildings, or high-profile zero-carbon projects. They will appear on ordinary people's houses and work places. This is not just a good thing, it is a necessary thing.

They will be like the solar heating panels you now see in every Mediterranean village. These looked pretty weird when I first saw them on a Greek island-hopping holidays in the 1970s, but now they seem a natural part of the landscape, just like the windmills of the previous century.

It’s a brilliant time for government strategists to encourage lots and lots of small scale pump-priming initiatives to spread the word at a local level. Remember free loft insulation in the 1960s?

Contrast the conservativism of the conservation officer with the radicalism of her ultimate political masters. We all know that the UK's oil and gas is running out, and although John Prescott seems to have other things on his mind at present, both the prime minister and the chancellor (and their close friends and advisers in the energy biz) suddenly seem dead set on building another generation of nuclear power stations. And our führer wants them soon.

I'm always anxious about huge construction initiatives implemented in a hurry. It seems fantastically easy these days for building contractors of any size to quote "elf an safety" as an excuse for their elongating programme and escalating price. The combination of a the most extreme health and safety constraints with the usual PFI mindset does not augur well for the procurement of well-considered and sustainable power stations. And, according to the mayor of London, it's going to cost the taxpayer £70bn to decommission the ones we have at the minute so it's hardly a cheap option, is it?

Surely the answer is to start at the other end? Save 8% in energy demands and you won't need those replacement power stations at all.

The government should lead by example and the construction industry is the obvious place to start. Why not encourage the development of solar-collecting roads and playgrounds and provide tax breaks for anything that helps contribute to zero-emissions? Or subsidise car-free developments and introduce VAT reductions for carbon-catching installations and grey water recycling. The technology has been around for years - look across the Channel.

The "conserving energy" initiative must be one of the few where nearly everybody really wants to join in - even conservation officers. It's a brilliant time to take advantage of this and for government strategists to encourage lots and lots of small scale pump-priming initiatives to spread the word at a local level. Remember free loft insulation in the 1960s? The energy conservation movement is all there and raring to go at grassroots level. It won't be long before housebuyers would rather have no heating bills than a double garage.

One thing we must not do is to allow energy efficiency to dominate other architectural factors. It's green but it's ugly. It's energy efficient, but there's no privacy. Its eco-friendly but it's fantastically inconvenient. With that caveat, local conservation initiatives are very much part of the solution.

The construction industry (one way or another) is responsible for half the country's energy consumption, and half of that is accounted for by private households. So the most helpful thing central government could do right now would be to brief planners that windmills, solar panels and turf roofs do not represent the end of civilisation as we know it. They represent exactly the opposite.