As part of an effort to increase options for large buyers looking to use renewable energy sources to meet thermal energy needs, such as heating and cooling processes in manufacturing, the Renewable Thermal Collaborative (RTC) today released a report that calls for a standardized approach for tracking and reporting emissions from this rapidly growing sector.
Nearly half of all energy demand worldwide is from heating and cooling, and in the U.S. heating and cooling accounts for more than a quarter of energy demand – and these numbers are projected to rise. Many heating and cooling processes cannot cost-effectively utilize grid-based renewable electricity because retrofitting the processes is too expensive or technically not possible. Reducing carbon emissions associated with the generation of heating and cooling is key to achieving long-term climate change mitigation goals. Yet, inconsistent and inaccurate assessments of the emissions impact or benefits of heating and cooling could result in companies under reporting their emissions gains, or overcounting their benefit.
The report, Renewable Heating and Cooling for Industrial Applications: Guidance for Carbon Accounting, was developed by independent research from Ecofys, a Navigant company, and published in collaboration with the RTC with support from Mars Incorporated. Part of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, the RTC is harnessing corporate demand for clean energy purchasing options. The report is the first landscape analysis to assess the many existing methodologies used to calculate emissions impacts of six thermal energy project types and recommends a primary methodology for each.
“Despite its large energy and carbon footprint and its significant potential to reduce carbon emissions, options for large buyers to use renewable energy for heating and cooling remains limited,” said Bryn Baker, Deputy Director of Renewable Energy at World Wildlife Fund, speaking on behalf of the RTC. “Without clarity about the impacts of different thermal energy projects, due in large part to inconsistency in the way companies are calculating emissions, this sector is lagging in deploying new purchasing options.”
“Across the globe, renewable heating and cooling is scaling up much more slowly than renewable electricity,” said David Gardiner, President of David Gardiner and Associates. “To address global climate and energy challenges, we must accelerate the deployment of renewable thermal technologies.”
The report found there is consensus around accounting for two thermal energy project types. For ground source heat pumps, a straightforward methodology exists. For recovered heat projects (recovering waste heat from burning fossil fuels), the report proposes an uncontroversial method.
For bioenergy project types, such as wood chips from residues or from virgin forestry and biomethane, the report found there is one methodology, BioGrace-II, that is the most comprehensive, but there remain significant gaps and a lack of consensus around how to account for emissions from bioenergy projects.
Bioenergy projects often result in biogenic emissions, otherwise known as stack emissions from burning biomass, and can also cause land use change emissions due to the demand for biomass. “The debate is primarily focused on the combustion of virgin wood, rather than wood wastes or residues,” said Jeroen De Beer, associate director for Navigant. “We therefore recommend that companies take a precautionary approach in their use of biomass and utilize wood wastes or residues for RHC.”
The report’s recommended methodologies by project are:
- For all biomass-based project types (biomethane and wood chips from virgin forestry, forestry residues, and industrial residues), the BioGrace-II methodology should be used, noting that gaps still need to be addressed to account for biogenic emissions and land use change.
- For ground source heat pumps, the GHG Protocol on accounting is straightforward and comprehensive.
- For recovered heat, the report proposes a calculation based on the energy value of the heat – indicating the work potential of the heat – that can be used.
“At Mars, our sustainability actions are guided by science, and solid measurement is key to our ability to manage our performance,” said Kevin Rabinovitch, VP of Sustainability for Mars Incorporated. “This report lays the foundation to develop a fully comprehensive accounting process, which will help provide large corporate buyers the tools to accelerate renewable thermal use in the future.”
About the Renewable Thermal Collaborative: The RTC was launched in September of 2017 under the umbrella of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) to help manufacturers, cities, and environmental organizations tackle barriers to renewable thermal energy. The RTC is led by its current members—Cargill, General Motors, Kimberly-Clark, L’Oréal, Mars, P&G, and the City of Philadelphia—and is facilitated by World Wildlife Fund, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and David Gardiner and Associates.