The Hidden Costs of Life Cycle Emissions

By Kathryn Adams, Lead Generation Manager, Ecotricity

With the UN recently warning that we have just 12 years to limit the impacts of climate change – awareness of the importance of reducing our carbon footprint has never been greater.  So what steps can your business take to reduce its carbon footprint?

For many restaurateurs, electricity use will be the single biggest contributory factor to your carbon emissions – so the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is switch to 100% renewable green energy.

But why is switching to green energy so important in our drive to reduce our carbon emissions?  Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from the need to power our lives but all the evidence suggests that we should be doing this from renewable sources – as green energy has the lowest carbon impact.  Over the course of the last 20 years there have been many in-depth studies to measure and compare sources of electricity generation and their impact on the environment. The most comprehensive and widely accepted view is that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who in 2014 harmonised the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) from all these studies.

Their approach allows us to look at the complete life-cycle impacts of each power source so we can measure emissions from the build, installation, and output side-by-side to get an unbiased view. And whilst there are likely to have been some minor changes to the total life cycle emissions from wind energy, and similarly nuclear in recent years; for the purposes of providing a holistic view the IPCC’s figures are provided;

Life cycle CO2 equivalent from selected electricity supply technologies. Arranged by decreasing median (gCO2eq/kWh) values.

TechnologyMedian Type
Coal – PC820Brown
Biomass – with coal*740Brown
Gas (Combined cycle)490Brown
Biomass – dedicated230Green
Solar PV (Utility scale)48Green
Solar PV – Rooftop41Green
Concentrated solar power27Green
Wind (Offshore)12Green
Wind (Onshore)11Green

*see also environmental impact of reservoirs on greenhouse gases.

Every energy provider has been obliged since 2005 to declare the mix of electricity they supply to their customers – be that brown coming from a mix of fossil fuels including coal, oil or nuclear or from green sources that are renewable like the wind, sun and hydro – so in theory it’s never been easier to make a more informed choice about your energy provider. However, we’d urge a note of caution here – not all energy is as green as it seems – but more on this in the new year when we launch our green energy toolkit.

What probably comes as more of a surprise is the carbon intensity of biomass which although a renewable energy source and a great way to recycle food and other waste, does have the highest carbon impact of all green energy sources. We’d urge you ask questions of your supplier and be conscious of your energy mix when choosing your electricity provider. Ours can be found here.  Get in touch if you want to find out more.

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