Between the rising cost of fossil fuels and increased regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing a company’s carbon footprint is a question of business efficiency as much as it is of environmental ethics. Renewable energy resources and other carbon-reducing technologies still carry with them a higher upfront investment than their fossil fuel counterparts, but the long-term benefits of these energy solutions more than offsets the initial cost, and are often a source of business process optimization. In other words, not only do such technologies pay for themselves, they often become a productivity asset.
There are a number of ways to go about reducing one’s carbon emissions, but there are three categories in particular that are nearly always a part of a company’s carbon reduction strategy. As we’ll see, many of these are a part of microgrid technology solutions, showing the direct impact distributed energy systems (DES) have on curbing carbon emissions.
As of 2018, 26.9% of all greenhouse gases were produced as a result of electricity production, 63% of which was derived from burning fossil fuels. If a company intends to reduce its carbon emissions (and 22% of all GHG emissions come from the industry sector), it must begin by changing its source of electricity to renewable or clean resources. Solar, wind, and geothermal are the most common renewable energy sources, and are often a key feature in forming a grid-independent DES configuration. As an added benefit of implementing renewable energy for its power generation, companies may also enjoy increased resiliency rather than rely exclusively on a centralized power grid.
Given the intermittent nature of renewables, if a company is seeking reliable grid independence, energy storage systems must be a part of any DES solution. Solar panels and wind turbines can deliver more power than can be consumed during peak times of generation, and in order to fully capitalize on the energy they provide and subsequently minimize carbon emissions, energy storage systems will have to be incorporated. Additionally, molten salts and phase-change materials can be used to store thermal energy, which can be re-purposed to cover heating and cooling loads during times of day when renewables aren’t producing, or converted to electricity without any carbon emissions.
Although renewable energy and energy storage devices have made immense strides over the past few decades, they are currently inadequate to completely provide for baseload power demands. This necessitates reduced power consumption on the front end for clean energy technologies to be effective. As such, devices that improve a company’s energy efficiency should be as much a part of their emission reducing strategy as renewable power sources and storage devices. Examples include high-efficiency heat exchangers, pinch analysis to optimize utility steam consumption, and energy-efficient machinery and appliances.
Less Is More
Concern for environmental wellbeing is sufficient grounds for evaluating the means of reducing carbon emissions, but if companies need more reasons for doing so, they are plenty. Government regulations, financial incentives, grid independence, and productivity boosts across multiple performance metrics make the benefit of mitigating one’s carbon footprint too great to neglect. At this point, given the number of technological advancements and opportunities available to companies for improving their own processes and the lives of the customers they serve, reducing carbon emissions is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.