Getting a Head Start

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that according to the National Academy of Sciences, the Earth's surface temperature has risen by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past century, with accelerated warming during the past two decades. There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities. Human activities have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere through the buildup of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The GHGs of primary concern are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxides (NOx).

In the United States, approximately 6.6 tons of greenhouse gases are emitted per person every year. The United States presently emits more greenhouse gases per person than any other country. Industrial energy use accounts for nearly 30 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions primarily result from electricity use, product transportation, the burning of fossil fuels to power boilers and produce steam and using gasoline to power vehicle fleets. Some industrial processes also produce greenhouse gases.

Although the international community has been actively developing and implementing a GHG control program through agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, the United States has been moving cautiously. The domestic situation is changing, however, with new federal and state initiatives, economic incentives and proposed legislative changes. This article will explain the present GHG situation in this country and describe the justifications and advantages for instituting a GHG control program under the present regulatory and economic environment.

Current Regulatory Environment
Since the international effort to address climate change was launched a decade ago, progress has been made in creating a common framework to start industrialized countries on the path to GHG emissions reduction. An example of such success was the completion of negotiations over the rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol, which has allowed countries to proceed with ratification. As of mid 2003, 84 parties had signed the Protocol and 111 parties ratified or acceded to the agreement. The Kyoto Protocol is now getting close to being implemented in force. The "magic" number for acceptance is that 55 Annex I (or highly industrialized) countries adopt the agreement. As of the writing of this article, 32 Annex I countries have approved the Protocol. The setback to the Protocol, of course, was President Bush's rejection of it.

In the United States, currently all GHG initiatives are voluntary. The President's climate change policy sets a goal to cut greenhouse gas intensity by 18 percent over the next 10 years. To achieve this reduction, the plan sets up a "voluntary" scheme to reduce these emissions. It expands the current voluntary emission reduction registration program under 1605(b) of the 1992 Energy Policy Act to provide credit to those firms that reduce their emissions, ensure that those businesses that register reductions will not be penalized under future climate policy, and calls for a review of the plan in 2012 to determine whether this goal has been met. It suggests that additional measures, such as a mandatory cap and trade regulatory program for carbon dioxide, will be imposed on businesses if they fail to meet this goal. The Bush administration plans for GHG control have been controversial in that climate control advocates believe that only mandatory participation programs will be ultimately effective.

Many GHG initiatives are now being generated at the local and regional level. In the summer of 2003 for example, New York Governor George Pataki(R) announced that he received commitments from the governors of nine northeast states to join New York state in a regional strategy to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants. The initiative would develop an emissions trading system to require power generators to reduce emissions.

Benefits of Implementing a GHG Reduction Program
In a recent document entitled "U.S. Energy Scenarios for the 21st Century," published by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, future GHG emissions were examined for probable future energy scenarios. The conclusion of the study was that even with innovative new energy developments, without a mandated U.S. climate change policy, GHG emissions will continue to increase significantly in this century. Market forces alone will not result in a reduction of emissions. With this said, and in view of international efforts and new domestic initiatives, it would be prudent for U.S. industry to start to adopt GHG reduction measures as part of its environmental management. Planning ahead is always the best measure in uncertain regulatory times.

The good news is that industry can take a leading role in focusing serious attention on global warming by developing a portfolio of actions that save money, improve productivity and protect the environment. Companies pursuing energy efficiency and pollution prevention projects stand to gain a competitive edge over firms that fail to make these changes.

The approaches for implementing GHG reductions strategies are varied and highly facility specific. The mechanisms will, however, fall in the following categories:

  • Pollution prevention and process optimization
  • Energy efficiency improvements
  • Use of renewable and/or clean fuels
  • Reduction in vehicle/fleet mileage

A proven approach for identifying alternatives for GHG reductions would be to conduct a "gap analysis" similar to that performed when developing an environmental management system (EMS) or ISO 14001 program. Sources of GHGs are first identified and then goals are developed for reductions. Control options are evaluated based on both technical feasibility and cost, and then the selected alternative is implemented. There is virtually an unlimited universe of GHG reduction techniques, examples include:

  • Establishing load management measures such as matching boiler size to load. Such measures can save up to 50 percent on fuel usage.
  • Converting to air or steam atomizing burners from conventional burners. Potential fuel saving from 2 percent to 8 percent.
  • Establishing an effective steam trap maintenance program. Potential fuel savings of 10 percent to 20 percent.
  • Direct firing with natural gas in place of indirect steam in process heating applications. Potential fuel savings of 33 percent to 45 percent.
  • Replacing leaks in compressed air systems. Potential energy savings of 30 percent.
  • The recovery and collection of biogas emissions to be used in facility boilers and process heaters. The use of biogas would replace natural gas and represent a near free fuel.

More examples of such reduction techniques can be found on the EPA Global Warming Web site provided at the end of this article.

As part of the economic evaluation of candidate GHG reduction methods, it is recommended that financial incentive programs be examined, many at the state level. Many states offer low-interest loans and other lucrative incentives to stimulate GHG reduction actions. Some examples include:

  • The Texas LoanSTAR program provides low-interest loans for: energy efficient lighting systems; high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; computerized energy management control systems; boiler efficiency improvements; energy recovery systems; and building shell improvements for educational institutions and state agencies.
  • The California Alternative Fuel Conversion Rebate Program provides rebates for the cost of conversion of a vehicle to alternative fuels. Eligible renewable fuels include: liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG), electricity, ethanol or methanol. The program also supplies rebates toward the purchase of a new, factory-equipped alternative fuel vehicle.
  • Massachusetts has a $20 million-per-year funding program designed to promote the development of renewable energy. By supporting projects focusing on areas such as solar photovoltaic and solar thermal electric energy; wind energy; ocean thermal, wave or tidal energy; fuel cells; landfill gas; waste-to-energy; hydroelectric; and advanced biomass power conversion technologies, the fund hopes to increase the supply of -- and demand for -- renewable energy.
  • The Iowa Energy Center provides grants to eligible organizations for energy research on topics that have strong relevance to Iowa. Past grants have supported research in biofuels, wind resource assessment, photovoltaic research, biomass gasification, energy-efficient livestock confinement ventilation, process manufacturing efficiency and commercial building HVAC control, among many other topics.

Registration of GHG Emission Reductions
In light of past experience with trading programs for pollutants such as NOx and sulfur dioxide (SO2), greenhouse gas cap-and-trade emissions reduction programs will likely become a major component of GHG domestic policy in the future. In this regard, companies should proactively develop appropriate regulatory strategies. Such strategies will help ensure that companies receive full credit for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Presently, GHG registries exist at both the federal and state levels. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is the primary federal agency for reporting (on a voluntary basis) GHG activities. DOE has two reporting mechanisms:

The Long Form (Form EIA-1605):

  • Reporters should chose the Long Form if they wish to:
  • Create an in-depth public record of emission reduction efforts that will be useful for information exchange purposes
  • Report emissions, reductions or carbon sequestration for an entire organization
  • Report historical emission/reduction/sequestration information
  • Include information on activities conducted outside the United States
  • Report a commitment to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions

The Short Form (Form EIA-1605EZ), a simple, two-page form with instructions:

  • Reporters should chose the Short (EZ) Form if they wish to:
  • Provide a brief summary of their greenhouse gas reduction projects
  • Report only on specific projects reducing emissions or sequestering carbon in the United States in the given data year

As mentioned, several states also are developing GHG reporting mechanisms. For example, in 1999, New Hampshire enacted one of the nation's first laws authorizing the creation of a voluntary greenhouse gas registry. The intent was to encourage voluntary greenhouse gas emissions reductions by New Hampshire sources by creating a registry that allowed those sources to formally record and document emissions reductions made since 1990.

In preparing any record of GHG activities and reductions, regardless of the regulatory entity, the following information will need to be reported and documented:

  • A detailed description of the activity that is the subject of the registration
  • The dates when the reductions occurred
  • The geographic area where the reductions were achieved
  • The method used to calculate the reductions
  • How the reductions where verified -- i.e., did third-party verification occur?
  • The type, quantity and unit of measure of the energy or fuel saved
  • The type, quantity and unit of measure of the greenhouse gas reductions generated by the activity

Greenhouse gas policy is gaining broad support both internationally and now domestically. It is inevitable that monitoring, trading and controlling GHGs will be common place in the not too distant future. There exists substantial benefits for industry to start planning and implementing GHG programs now. Such actions will save money, improve productivity, provide operational flexibility and, at the same time, protect the environment.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2003 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Richard Cooley, M.Ch.E., is Director of Sales, Alzeta Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.