How better data on energy sources can help reduce carbon emissions
In the fight against climate change, buildings have a lot to pull. They are responsible for an estimate 74% electricity consumption in the United States and about a third the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing these numbers, whether by reducing electricity consumption or improving energy efficiency, would have a measurable impact.
A year-long company called nZero has a way for buildings, and many other energy users, to do both of these things. The solution, according to the company, is to manage the time of day when energy is used.
Carbon emissions from electricity consumption in a building are tied to the production of that electricity, explains Adam Kramer, CEO of nZero, and electricity produced at different times of the day produces different amounts of carbon dioxide. Depending on the energy mix (coal, natural gas, a combination of solar and wind), electricity generation can have very different carbon intensities. Times of day when coal is the primary source have high intensities compared to times when renewable fuel batteries are the power source for utility customers, for example.
Using data from across the energy grid, nZero helps companies accurately track their carbon emissions by monitoring the carbon intensity of the electricity they use on an hourly basis. “Whether you turn on the light at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m., the carbon intensity is dramatically different,” says Kramer. But most carbon emissions tracking available today relies on daily averages of carbon intensity. “Average is a very blunt tool.”
The company’s clients have been found to over-report or under-report their emissions by 5-40%. “That clarification is important,” says Kramer. More accurate 24/7 emissions tracking, Kramer says, can allow building owners or businesses to adjust when and how they use electricity to achieve the greatest emissions reductions. of carbon.
The company began operations in April 2021 and already tracks approximately 35 million square feet of real estate across 3,500 buildings in North America. Kramer says it took three years to develop the algorithm that allows nZero to track so closely the carbon intensity of energy production and use across the United States, from federal data to news. regional load balancers to local utility production and customer usage statistics. In total, the company analyzes around 200 million data points.
The analysis provided by nZero is increasingly in demand by building owners and users, Kramer says, even in the United States, where reporting of carbon emissions at the building level is still mostly voluntary. Building tenants want to be able to brag about their environmental standards and building owners want emissions data to show potential tenants. Some buildings are even required by their funders to do so. “A lot of these buildings are owned by funds, whether public pension funds or private equity funds, that now require them to report this emissions data,” Kramer says. “They have voters on both sides demanding this.”
Companies across the United States are using nZero data to better understand when and where their emissions are coming from, and adjusting their practices and building infrastructure accordingly.
While he can’t name the company, Kramer points to a major hospitality client whose buildings total 13 million square feet. At its headquarters in the desert southwest, the company used daily averages to estimate its carbon emissions. Diurnal carbon intensity, particularly high in the desert, was used to estimate all emissions over 24 hours, despite a sharp drop in emissions at night. They ended up overestimating the headquarters’ carbon emissions by 35%.
Another aviation industry customer used nZero data to learn that, aside from jet fuel, their biggest source of emissions came from heating their jet hangars with natural gas. This knowledge has been used to stimulate investment in heat pumps and geothermal wells that will produce far fewer carbon emissions.
The city of Reno, Nevada also used nZero’s granular data to reduce emissions. Hourly monitoring showed that a significant amount of emissions were caused by night-time charging of the city’s electric vehicle fleet. By switching to daytime charging, when the local utility is able to generate more of its electricity from renewable sources, the city has been able to reduce its emissions from car charging by 30%.
Kramer says it’s just about knowing more granular details about how electricity is used. “It opens up a whole range of solutions that are bigger than ‘We just need more green power’ or ‘We just need to change our light bulbs’,” he says. “It allows you to be specific about the actions you can and should take to reduce your environmental impact based on where, when and how you produce emissions.”
Carbon emissions reporting is still relatively rare in the United States, with the Environmental Protection Agency requiring it only from large emitters, those that produce 25,000 metric tons or more per year. California has its own law, with a threshold of 10,000 metric tons per year. These amounts tend to apply only to large industrial sites, such as cement factories, oil and gas production and transportation fuel suppliers. New York City recently adopted its own emissions declaration lawwhich is based on the size of a building, starting at 25,000 square feet, approximately the size of a grocery store.
Kramer hopes to convince lawmakers to make this more common. His company is actively working with legislators and regulators to rethink the responsibilities building owners and operators must take to reduce their impact on the environment.
The first step is to gather the data to better understand the problem. Daily carbon intensity averages aren’t good enough anymore, says Kramer. “When the problem is something that’s measured in inches and you have a ruler that only measures in feet, you’re going to be considerably uncomfortable understanding where your impact is coming from and therefore being able to to resolve.”