G7 Summit Sets Goal to Decarbonize World Economy

On the final day of the 41st G7 summit, which was held in Germany on June 7th and 8th, the leaders of the industrialized nations resolved to “decarbonize” the world economy by the end of the century, which will largely be accomplished by phasing out the use of fossil fuels. Although they do not plan to set binding goals until  a conference scheduled later this year in Paris, the participants did agree to back the recommendations of the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change, and work to reduce global greenhouse emissions at the upper end of a range of 40% to 70% by 2050 relative to a 2010 baseline.

As we enter what might be the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age, with the attendant challenges of developing low-carbon energy systems, keep in mind that ANTARES has over 20 years of experience in successfully implementing cost-effective renewable energy solutions. Give us a call to discuss how we can help bring your project to market.

Climate Impacts of CNG Trucks

This press release showed up in my news feed today:  Natural gas versus diesel: Examining the climate impacts of natural gas trucks (http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-05/acs-ngv052015.php).  We have worked with fleets considering conversion to compressed natural gas (CNG) and have also ventured into lifecycle analysis, so I had to take a look.

The paper itself had not been published yet, but the authors found that switching big fleets of diesel vehicles to CNG may not have quite the greenhouse gas benefits that we usually hear about.  Why?  Because of energy consumption and methane (natural gas) releases during the extraction and production of natural gas.  As methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, even small releases of methane have a large impact on the relative greenhouse gas intensity of fueling a vehicle with CNG.

Without reading the paper itself, I can’t say whether the authors’ assumptions and scenarios make sense, but the finding is very plausible, so  we will be keeping an eye on this discussion.  If you have any questions about greenhouse gas reduction or CNG as a transportation fuel, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

President Obama Sets New Federal Government Sustainability Goals to Reduce GHG Emissions

On March 19th, President Obama signed a new Executive Order that increases Federal requirements for reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) and increasing renewable energy usage.  As stated in the Order:

Through a combination of more efficient Federal operations […] we have the opportunity to reduce agency direct greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent over the next decade while at the same time fostering innovation, reducing spending, and strengthening the communities in which our Federal facilities operate.

Since the Federal government is the single largest consumer of energy in the Nation, actions like this can have a significant impact on the country’s GHG emissions profile.

carbonchart_1200x600

Image from Energy.Gov

Specifically, the Executive Order sets the following key targets for Federal agencies (where life-cycle cost effective).  They extend and expand upon previous Federal government sustainability goals:

  • Ensure that at least 25% of total building energy (electric and thermal) is clean energy by 2025 (interim targets start at 10% by 2016). Clean energy includes renewable energy technologies as well as combined heat and power, fuel cell energy systems, new small modular nuclear reactors, projects with active carbon capture and storage, and other alternative energy approaches.
  • Ensure that 30% of building electric energy is renewable by 2025 (interim targets start at 10% in 2016).
  • Reduce energy intensity in Federal buildings by 2.5% per year from 2015 through 2025.
  • Reduce water usage by 2% per year through 2025 (potable water and water for industrial, landscaping, and agricultural uses).
  • Reduce per-mile GHG emissions for agency fleets by 30 percent by the end of 2025 (relative to 2014 levels), and increase the percentage of zero emission vehicles or plug-in hybrid vehicles.

In related news, the IEA recently announced that global carbon emissions were flat in 2014, following four decades of steady rises. At the same time, the global economy grew by 3 percent. This is just one more indication that economic growth and use of lower carbon energy sources can be compatible goals.

WRI’s New GHG Protocol Scope 2 Guidance – Why Should I Care?

If your company has GHG reduction goals, you should care. The GHG Protocol Corporate Standard is the most widely used standard for corporate GHG accounting in the world. If your company supplies or buys renewable energy, this update addresses one of the most complex and contentious issues in GHG accounting: the treatment of renewable energy transactions. You can click on Figure 1 now and jump right to the 120 pages of new guidance, but I hope you will read on for observations and insights from someone who worked on the Technical Working Group that helped WRI and WBCSD put it together.

GHG Protocol Scope 2 Guidance

Exhibit 1: WRI’s Amendment to the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard (click on picture to access WRI’s corporate standard web page)

World Resources Institute (WRI) released the new GHG Protocol Scope 2 Guidance: An Amendment to the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard, in January 2015. It has significant implications for how instruments like renewable energy certificates (RECs) in the US should be included in GHG emission accounting for corporations. The treatment of RECs in accounting was by far the most contentious issue and it still splits participants between those willing to accept them as a tracking device for market-based ownership of renewable attributes and those that oppose them because of valid questions about how much purchasing RECs actually accomplishes in reducing GHG emissions. I think the current protocol does the best it can in the face of an irresolvable disagreement by making the source of GHC emission claims clear so that a third party can judge for themselves the sources of a company’s GHG emissions and the quality of a company’s market-based actions to change its emissions. The protocol is good practice; following it will make GHG claims about using renewable energy both more credible and more likely to avoid false or misleading claims that can turn into bad publicity or legal action if claims violate statutes or Federal agency directions like those found in FTC’s Green Guides for Environmentally Friendly Products.

What Changed?

The most visible change is that corporate inventories must now include information from two accounting methods to comply with the Corporate Standard. The location-based method is just what it sounds like. It uses emission factors for electricity based on the location of a facility and the available electricity supply and applies them to all the electricity the reporting organization uses. The second is a market-based method, which reflects an organization’s emissions based on contractual agreements the organization uses to acquire electricity that is different from the mix of generation available in a given location (think RECs) – while accounting for the emissions associated with the remainder of the electricity provided by local supplies.

Location Based Method

For the location-based method the new guidance provides extensive information and recommendations on how to identify and use a quality emission factor and the limitations and issues an organization is likely to encounter in using emission factors. For example, emission factors are often outdated relative to the GHG reporting period in which they are used, sometimes by years. Another problems is reconciling where the electricity a customer buys is really being generated. Suppliers and distributors often exchange generation with each other to satisfy demand on an instantaneous basis. Emission factors also often fail to properly reflect the “residual mix” of generation after taking account of renewable energy directly purchased by individual customers. This fact must be taken into account. The new guidance discusses these issues and their context, and offers practical advice on how to proceed if the “perfect” emission factors are not available. This illustrates one of the most useful aspects of the entire document:  it recognizes and explains key issues, which points the way for improving GHG emission inventories and tools, while still making practical recommendations on how to proceed in the absence of perfect data.

Market Based Method

For the market-based method, the guidance accommodates the very wide range of instruments for conveying renewable energy that exist around the world while still maintaining key principles. One of the most important is that in scope 2 accounting, only one entity can own and make claims about using a specific unit of renewable energy (megawatt hours embodied in a REC, for example) to avoid double counting between consumers. At its most basic level, the market-based method illuminates what an organization has done with its purchasing to change the GHG intensity of the power it uses. There is extensive information and advice on how a market-based estimate should be done and the issues involved (“null power” will have to be the subject of another posting), but two key issues deserve special attention. First, emissions associated with renewable energy purchases should only show their actual emissions, not an estimate of emissions avoided or impacts on other generation. Second, and related, this new guidance makes it clear that in this accounting framework measures like purchasing renewable energy represent what the reporting organization is consuming, not necessarily what that consumption means for overall GHG emissions. In practice, one organization’s purchase of renewable energy may just make other customers use more fossil fuels with no impact on overall emissions in the short-term. The type of emission calculation needed to claim actual reductions in GHG emissions is difficult to make, can change over time, and involves assumptions about what would have happened absent the renewable energy project. These issues are better addressed in the GHG Project Protocol, where additionality and other complex issues are explored in more depth. An organization is free to purchase formal carbon offsets or contractual instruments it believes will have more impact in supporting new renewable energy use and include that information in disclosures, but additionality is not a requirement for renewable energy reported under the market-based method in scope 2.

Keeping Things Consistent

Although doing two emissions calculations sounds complex, most organizations tracking their GHG emissions are already collecting the information needed for both the location-based and market-based accounting. This guidance simply makes the information more transparent and easier to review by defining what to include, how to make calculations, and how the information should be presented. Transparency and consistency in accounting makes it possible for an organization itself or an outside reviewer to understand more about how an organization is pursuing its GHG targets. Changes in consumption from year to year are reflected in both the location- and market-based methods. More information is needed to determine whether those changes in consumption reflect changes in weather, greater efficiency, or a change in operations, but at least the general source of change is readily apparent. Similarly, changes in emission factors from year to year in the location-based method expose what portion of an organization’s change in GHG emissions comes from changes in the electricity it buys from its local supplier. Finally, the emission and consumption information on the renewable energy an organization has purchased and included in its market-based accounting makes it clear what actions an organization has taken beyond using less energy or choosing a business location where electricity suppliers have lower GHG emissions. The guidance’s eight scope 2 quality criteria, shown in Figure 2, assure that the instruments used for market-based accounting meet minimum requirements.

At 120 pages including 3 pages of references and 4 pages of recognitions for the people and organizations from around the globe who helped develop the document, I can’t claim this is light reading. But it is very well-organized, illustrated, and referenced for practical use. It took four years to produce this significant update to the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard and I think it will be widely adopted and used since it is an evolutionary change over the prior version.

Scope 2 Quality Criteria, WRI GHG Protocol Scope 2 Guidance Amendment, Table 7.3, page 60

Exhibit 2: Scope 2 Quality Criteria, WRI GHG Protocol Scope 2 Guidance Amendment, Table 7.3, page 60

 

Corporate Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory

Every year we at ANTARES calculate our corporate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory, which shows the emissions associated with our business activities. In this post I’ll describe our experiences, including what type of data we use, how we track it, and how this data is in turn used to estimate our GHG emissions. But first, I’ll start by talking a bit about what a GHG inventory is and why it’s useful.

What is a GHG Inventory?

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