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Emissions Tracking – The Key to Energy and Sustainability Reporting

What is emissions tracking?

Emissions tracking is a way for businesses to gauge their operational efficiency and sustainability by tracking the green-house gas (GHG) emissions generated by the electricity needed to maintain their operations.

What are the benefits of tracking and reporting emissions?

Tracking and reporting emissions helps your company increase transparency to its investors, clients, and the public, increase efficiency and lower unnecessary energy costs, and increase its knowledge of energy consumption trends.

How can I track emissions?

There are two primary ways to track your emissions: Average Annual Emissions Factors and Real-time Emissions Data.

It’s no secret that sustainability and climate change are hot topics right now (no pun intended). They were discussed extensively in the first 2020 presidential debate. In 2019, CGS found that 47% of U.S. consumers would pay more for a sustainable product, with 35% willing to pay 25% more for sustainable products. Clearly, going green is good for the climate and good for business. So, how can you show clients, customers, and investors that your company is sustainable? Namely, through energy and sustainability reporting. Companies that voluntarily report greenhouse gas emissions can benefit from cost savings as well as improved reputation and investor relations. But before you can publish reports on your emissions, you first need to track and measure them. That’s where emissions tracking comes in.

What Exactly is Emissions Tracking?

Great question. Emissions tracking is a way for businesses to gauge their operational efficiency and sustainability by tracking the green-house gas (GHG) emissions generated by the electricity needed to maintain their operations. Once a business knows how much CO2 they emit, they can work on reducing that amount, one way being reducing their electricity consumption.

The Benefits of Tracking (and Reporting!) Your Emissions

Tracking and reporting emissions helps your company:

  • Increase transparency to its investors, clients, and the public
  • Increase efficiency and lower unnecessary energy costs
  • Increase its knowledge of energy consumption trends

What is the Best Way to Track Your Emissions?

There are two primary ways to track your emissions: Average Annual Emissions Factors vs. Real-time Emissions Data.

  • Average Annual Emissions Factors estimate the amount of GHG emitted by the grid over the course of the year. This method has a downside of being less accurate when used to compare emissions reductions at different points in time since the emissions intensity of the grid varies greatly throughout the year (and even hour to hour).  For example, on a windy, sunny day, renewables like wind and solar make up a higher percentage of the energy supply, so the grid will have lowered emissions. Average Annual Emissions Factors only consider a change in the total amount of consumed energy, and do not note when that energy is deferred, stored, or consumed.
Calculating emissions using Average Annual Emissions Factors
  • Real-time Emissions Data is rapidly becoming the superior way to evaluate GHG emissions. Generated by interval meters and/or smart meters, real-time data allows you to look at what is going on in your building right now. Thus, it is much more efficient in managing a building than monthly utility bill data. Not only that, real-time data improves the accuracy of your GHG reporting and allows for more effective demand-response.  For example, A 2017 study on the California Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), showed the value of real-time emissions data. The program had set out to show the ability of battery storage to reduce emissions. However, during the first years of the program, real-time data monitoring showed that emissions actually increased – the batteries were charging and discharging at times that did not align with periods of lower grid emissions intensity. The program was able to use this information to correct the error. Such detailed monitoring and information may not have been possible without real-time data.

Calculating emissions using Real-time Emissions Data:

Understanding Electricity and Emissions

Because real-time data monitoring can report on emissions data at specific times and places, it could help with putting a price on the damage of pollution from emissions. Electricity makes up a large portion of GHG emissions in the United States: In 2016, electricity was responsible for 28% of GHG emissions. Base load also represents a large portion of electricity and carbon consumption. For example, in the PJM, MISO, and CISO regions, it is usually highest in the late afternoon during summer or early fall. (This proves that more extreme temperatures drive emissions.) The issue here is that, in order to get away from fossil fuel use, large-scale green electricity use is necessary. This means that electricity must be decarbonized, i.e. come from renewable sources like wind, solar, hydropower, or nuclear. Luckily, recent data shows that the carbon intensity of the U.S. grid has decreased by 30% from 2001 to 2017 as renewables replace coal and oil. High usage rates of hydropower and other renewables have lowered the emissions intensity of electricity in the two major western regions, CISO and BPAT. Meanwhile, nuclear power plants in the New York (NYISO) region have lowered emissions intensity.

Pricing pollution damages may cause electricity providers and consumers alike to pay more attention to the environmental dangers of electricity and then change their behavior accordingly. For example, if your company consumes a lot of electricity, you might respond shift your operations schedules to align with the environmental quality of the grid – i.e. when electricity generated by renewables, rather than fossil fuels, is available.

Helpful Resources:        

  • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tracks emissions for 3 major pollutants through its Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems: CO2, SO2, and NOx.
  • The EPA’s Emissions and Generation Integrated Resource database tracks plant, BA, and national statistics at the annual level.
  • The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) Electric System Operating Data website reports on hourly consumption, production, and interregional exchanges at the BA level.
  • EnergyWatch’s watchwire platform gives you the knowledge to thoroughly analyze your energy data in a cloud-based, centralized platform. Not only can watchwire provide you with real-time data monitoring, it can assist you with preparing energy budgets, measure your water and energy use, help you measure and verify the effectiveness of your efficiency projects, and benchmark your efforts against national efficiency standards like WELL Building and ENERGY STAR. To learn more about WatchWire’s capabilities, download the WatchWire Fact Sheet.
  • To learn about sustainability reporting in depth, download our e-book, “Utilizing Sustainability Reporting in the Journey Towards Net Zero.”