Electricity Maps Blog
April 21, 2020
6 min read
When looking for ways to make a meaningful impact in the fight against climate change, we often look for leverage points - areas where changes will make an outsized impact. As we’ve written about in our Pragmatic Guide to Climate Change, we believe that energy, specifically electricity generation in an increasingly electrified society, represents a leverage point.
Consequently, if you run climate change or sustainability initiatives in an organization, particularly if that organization uses a lot of electricity in their operations, you need to be taking action in this area. Not only can you reduce your carbon footprint, but with more granular carbon accounting and optimization of flexible electricity consumption, you can save money as well.
So what can you do? At Electricity Maps, we see three key ways to reduce the carbon footprint of electricity consumption: understand the true climate impact of consumption, optimize consumption and promote flexibility, and empower your customers with information about their consumption.
This is why we built Electricity Maps API - a comprehensive set of historical, live, and forecasted carbon footprint data for the global electricity grid. In this post, we’ll take you through some examples of how Electricity Maps API is helping companies reduce the carbon footprint of their electricity consumption.
Understanding the true impact of electricity
As Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured gets managed”. In the case of environmental impact, this means that in order to reduce a company’s footprint, reduce offsetting costs, or simply to make commitments such as a carbon neutrality goal, you need an accurate picture of your organization’s emissions.
With the world’s most comprehensive electricity emission dataset, Electricity Maps API is the perfect tool to calculate electricity emissions from company operations. Today, not only do several companies use our API to do their electricity carbon accounting (and be compliant with GHG protocol scope 2 and 3 emissions), but a number of public sector organizations, including universities, use our data to track electricity emissions over time at the national and global level.
If your organization has set an internal price on carbon or has developed a carbon offsetting program, having an accurate picture of your electricity-related carbon footprint is particularly relevant - by understanding your footprint at a granular level, you can identify ways to reduce footprint and save money in the process.
Optimizing consumption and promoting flexibility
As we’ve written in the past, we envision a society where electricity is used at the right time to reduce our carbon footprint, accounting for hourly fluctuations in the carbon footprint of the grid. Today, we work with a number of organizations to help realize this vision, empowering them to consume electricity at the right time with Electricity Maps API.
There are a few areas where Electricity Maps API can turn flexible consumption into CO₂ savings, including cloud computing and data centers, electric vehicle charging, and heating and cooling.
While the electricity efficiency of data centers has improved, a recent MIT study estimated that training a deep learning model emits the equivalent of 284t of CO₂. The biggest data center operators do generally a good job at limiting or offsetting their carbon emissions, but there is a way in which their carbon footprint could be reduced even more: shifting the computing tasks to times where electricity is greener - especially since many tasks already run during night and often have some flexibility on when the job needs to be done. For example, Google is using Electricity Maps API as part of their carbon-intelligent computing platform that aligns compute tasks with times where the grid has a high percentage of low-carbon energy.
Electric vehicle charging is another area where Electricity Maps API can reduce CO₂ via optimization. Through our collaboration with Parker, we demonstrated that Electricity Maps API can reduce the carbon footprint of electric vehicle charging by 15% by enabling “smart-charging”, where the vehicle charges at the times when the grid is greenest (using Electricity Maps API as its signal).
Heating and cooling is another industry that is going through electrification rapidly. We’ve already written previously about the CITIES project, where we helped to reduce the carbon footprint of swimming pool heating by 10% for a house over a day. A study by Tado shows that it takes many hours before a European dwelling loses heat - what if companies and households postponed the time where they use electricity for heating and cooling purposes by a few hours with no impact to their comfort or their business, but saved significant CO₂? This too can be enabled with Electricity Maps API.
But this isn’t just an opportunity for carbon footprint reduction - as the costs of fossil fuels continue to rise relative to renewables, and given that the marginal cost of renewables is effectively zero, matching consumption to times when the grid is greener will increasingly also mean saving money. Right now, several Electricity Maps API customers co-optimize their consumption using Electricity Maps API and electricity prices as signals, saving money and CO₂.
This is just the tip of the iceberg - whenever there is some flexibility in when one consumes electricity, from a factory to a dishwasher, Electricity Maps API can enable optimization that saves CO₂, and often money as well.
Finally, Electricity Maps also provides a platform for companies to engage consumers in a conversation about carbon footprint and sustainable consumption. Our hourly data provides meaningful, tangible insights to accompany a variety of services that consume electricity. For example, electricity retailer Barry uses the Electricity Maps API to show customers the carbon footprint of their electricity consumption in real-time and gives users a forecast for the future so they can shift their consumption to match the carbon footprint of the grid. Meanwhile, National Grid is illustrating the carbon footprint of their interconnectors to the UK using Electricity Maps API data.
The world is changing fast, and it is only a matter of time before carbon pricing makes high electricity emissions an even bigger economic risk than they already are for a business. Businesses taking action now will be positioned for resilience in the inevitable climate-conscious future.
If you’re ready to use our data to make meaningful change in any of the ways we’ve described above (or anything else!), check out our API page and reach out!