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5 steps to carbon neutral

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Facilities can achieve carbon neutrality today through five steps. UnisonEnergy is here to invest in that transition. Analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows we must reach carbon neutrality by 2050 if we hope to keep global warming below the critical 1.5°C thresholds. Carbon neutrality means canceling out 100% of site CO2 emission levels, either by reducing actual emissions, removing carbon from the atmosphere, or through a combination of these measures.

Large-scale investments in solar and wind are a positive step for our society. That said, solar and wind account for only 8.4% of current grid production, and there are barriers to reaching 100% renewables on the grid. When the sun is down and the wind is not blowing, something else needs to provide utility power. For the foreseeable future, natural gas speaker plants provide that capacity.

Businesses should not expect the grid to become carbon neutral in the next few decades. Instead, we have a responsibility to take action at our own facilities, where we can take five steps to get to carbon neutrality today and prepare for tomorrow:

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Invest in Efficiency

Many of our clients have boilers, chillers, and cooling towers that are at least 30-40 and even up to 60 years old. You can reduce your carbon load simply by upgrading facility infrastructure to include more efficient central plant equipment, LEDs or auto-dimming lights, and intelligent BMS systems.

solar panel with sun

Use Renewables Where Possible

Installing solar panels as part of a microgrid on parking lots, rooftops, or adjacent land can help drive 10-20% CO2 savings at most facilities. On-site solar requires a lot of space, new rooftops, and unobstructed sunshine throughout the day, but should be considered where possible.

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Be as Efficient with Carbon as Possible

Renewables are not practical for covering 100% of on-site electric needs even with battery storage — and cannot cover boiler loads, which typically total 30% of a site’s emissions. Facilities are dependent on some fossil fuels for now, but more efficient usage is possible.

An on-site, CHP-based microgrid can use natural gas to generate electricity more efficiently than the grid. At the same time, the system’s waste heat replaces all or most of the site’s boiler production. Currently, CHP systems are the most effective way to reduce emissions for both a facility’s electric and thermal loads, as they can reduce a carbon footprint by 25-60%.

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Decarbonize the Fuel Supply

While not yet widespread, biofuels from digesters at dairy farms, waste treatment plants, and food processing plants can provide carbon-neutral fuels for on-site cogeneration. In addition, there have been interesting advances in the hydrogen economy. Using the existing pipeline system, hydrogen could be available in the coming years for existing on-site natural gas generators or boilers. Today’s fuel-burning cogeneration systems will be even more efficient when incorporating these low-carbon fuels.

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Use Reforestation to Eliminate Remaining Emissions

No matter our energy mix in the future, there will likely be some remaining sources of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, agricultural processes, or transportation.The last step to carbon neutrality is to invest in reforestation to remove carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The key is to first make headway on the first four steps, with a focus on reducing facility emissions, before turning to reforestation.

The path to carbon neutrality can be implemented today. Unison Energy provides cost-effective turnkey solutions to help customers meet their carbon goals ahead of schedule. Unison Energy owns, builds, and operates microgrids using a long-term energy services agreement. There is no CAPEX required — we bill only for the energy used on site. The ESA frequently includes efficiency or central plant upgrades and reforestation as part of our solution. You can achieve carbon neutrality and reduce your energy costs at the same time.

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