By now, most of the world accepts that climate change is an existential threat: to avert this, there is an urgent need to change our ways. While there are many paths to achieve decarbonisation, each borrows from a central theme: we must decouple economic growth – and emissions growth. Unless we can do that, the only way to avoid certain disaster is substantial economic contraction. This would be a good example of where the cure is worse than the disease. We need to find a better way.
We at Carbon Action have recently worked with one client company who has undertaken an extraordinary challenge. They set out to reimagine business activity that did not produce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. To do this, they assembled a series of technologies – and designed them into a multi-dimensional renewable energy enterprise. To the passer by, this complex will look like a hotel, office blocks and a solar farm. On closer investigation you will see a range of technologies working in concert, the net effect of which is to allow economic growth – while reducing absolute GHG emissions. Our role was to ensure that the outcomes (the elimination of GHG emissions) were valid, and to advise generally on how to optimise the technologies.
But first a word of caution on claims of “carbon neutrality”. Frequently, such claims do not stand up to scrutiny. Neutrality claims may be based on purchasing offsets – which if not from validated projects and reputable providers, are suspect. They are often based on the procurement of renewable power: this while good, does not remove an ounce of emissions from the atmosphere – it simply shifts the problem somewhere else (at least until the entire electricity grid is clean/renewable). The lesson here is that claims of carbon neutrality – should be challenged. How exactly, was it achieved? Was it done at the stroke of a (procurement) pen – or did it result from real, substantive reengineering? Put another way, the neutrality story should be told by the engineering folks, not the marketing folks. This story is about how our client reimagined, reengineered and will implement their vision.
Planning permission for this project has just been submitted. As well as ensuring the ensure that the environmental benefits were real – our job was to quantify how the GHG emissions would compare to a business as usual design. The new complex will contain:
- A large capacity (416 rooms plus large function room to cater for 800 seated guests) 5 star hotel,
- Two office blocks
- 2(50-75Kw) wind turbines
- A 13000 M2 solar power farm
- Hybrid Solar PV panels (with solar thermal energy harvesting) installed on the rooftops.
- A high Capacity Tesla Power Pack Battery for power storage
- An (offsite) anaerobic digester for waste processing – with biogas and electricity generation co benefits
- A community plan in which the developer supplies solar PV panels to local housing: participants will generate clean power for the Tesla Power Pack battery and in return, buy electric power at discounted prices.
- An organic nursery to produce fresh produce for the hotel
Eliminating Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
The project is based around a collection of technologies that collectively work to eliminate the direct emissions at the facilities (Scope 1 and 2 emissions) – and also push these emission reductions further up the supply chains (Scope 3 emissions). The objective is to design the complex so that it will be carbon neutral for its Scope 1 and 2 emissions – as well as pushing Scope 3 emissions reductions into its supply chains.
Scope 1 Emissions – eliminated – how?
- The complex will have no combustion fuels. Normally, 28% of emissions from hotels come from combustion of gas or oil for heating and hot water. Both will be generated here without emissions through the Solar PV and Solar thermal installations.
- Refrigerant gases: normally refrigeration systems run on CFC gases which have extremely high global warming potential. The complex will use a cooling system driven by heat pumps, powered by the Solar PV. The system will use a small amount of a low CWP gas, whose global warming potential is a fraction conventional CFC’s. Moreover excess heat produced from the cooling system will be captured (in a thermal energy storage system) and used for heating as and when needed.
- Regenerative Lifts: These lifts (elevators) are fitted with VVVF drives (Variable Voltage Variable Frequency) – and can generate power every time they descend. Overall, this is expected to save about 80% of the power a lift would normally require.
- Power Storage: given the dependence on renewables, a large Tesla Power Pack battery will be used to store electric power, balancing power generation and usage.
Scope 2 Emissions – eliminated – how?
Scope 2 emissions derive from purchased electricity.
We expect no scope 2 emissions as the site will have sufficient clean power generation, balanced out by the battery unit. Power generation will come initially from three sources:
- The onsite wind turbine
- Solar Photo voltaic panels on the roof
- The anaerobic digestor (AD)
- The anaerobic digester breaks down organic waste anaerobically, or in the absence of oxygen, through microbial activity. This microbial activity produces emissions free biogases which are then used with an adjacent turbine to produce electricity. The residual matter or digestate, is a highly potent alternative fertiliser and will be used on the on-site horticultural centre to produce organic produce for the hotel. Conventional waste processing allows methane to escape as food waste breaks down. The AD process designs this problem away. As methane has 24 times more global warming potential than CO2 – substantial emissions damage is avoided here. The organic digestate, will be injected into the ground as a fertiliser. It has approximately three times the available nitrogen of synthetic fertiliser – with no emissions: (synthetic fertiliser production is of its nature, a high emissions process). More importantly however, because the digestate is organic, it stimulates a far healthier soil ecosystem, over the longer term. Prolonged use of synthetic fertilisers on the other hand, tend to produce diminishing yields over time.
- Company vehicles – will all be electric – so again, no scope 1 emissions from combustion of diesel or petrol. Because the power generation is onsite (thereby avoiding purchases from the national grid – there are no indirect or Scope 2 emissions. The national grid due to its inputs which include natural gas, does have emissions
- The solar PV panels will generate significant heat in the process of generating electricity. This excessive heat can reduce their operating efficiency. To combat this, the complex will cool the panels down by pumping water through them. This water is then heated, providing free hot water for the hotel’s heating system or swimming pools. With the planned solar capacity, this process is capable of producing up to 2 Mw thermal equivalent.
- The developers are planning to add power generation sources over time. On example is the micro generation from Solar PV on neighbouring houses. This will not only enhance the energy security of the complex, but also create an economic benefit and further reduce Scope 3 emissions.
Scope 3 Emissions – greatly reduced – how?
Scope 3 emissions are emissions that occur because of your activity – but which are not under your control. By design, the hotel complex’ relationship with its supply chains acts to reduce Scope 3 emissions in several ways:
- The Gondola system – linking local rail stations to the hotel: This is powered by clean electricity, but removes emissions from diesel/petrol taxis – as well as encouraging people to not drive their cars to the hotel – but rely wholly on the public transport system – not just the last mile.
- Waste processing: The hotel expects to generate 50 metric tonnes of organic waste per year. By processing this in the AD instead of conventional waste processing, methane emissions at waste processing sites will be less.
- Substitution of synthetic fertilisers – means that less synthetic fertiliser will have to be produced. In addition, emissions (and congestion) from shipping these will be reduced.
- The complex will require food suppliers to use biodegradable packaging, which can also be processed by the AD. This in turn will drive delivery innovation in the food chain.
- As much produce as possible will be produced on site – avoiding food miles and all the emissions associated with packaging and transport of produce. Menu design will favour seasonal produce as far as possible.
The entire complex will be a zero-emission site by design – avoiding what would otherwise have been over 10,000 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions under a business as usual (BAU) scenario. This result will be seen both at the complex and more widely, up through the supply chains. In other words, the entire contribution of the project will not just be carbon neutral, but carbon negative. It is a practical example of what society has to do if we are to survive.
All of the quantification estimates we have carried out have been done using the specification and guidance of ISO 14064-1 – applying its core principles to be Transparent, Relevant, Accurate, Complete and Consistent.
Moreover, we hope and expect this project to be an exemplar, not just in the UK, but globally. It is an excellent application of available technologies and could be applied in many more circumstances. As the various technologies continue to develop, the trade-offs will become even more impactful and economic. This is cause for optimism: the world realises it has a problem – it just lacks good roadmaps of how to solve it. Here is one good roadmap.
Carbon Action www.carbonaction.co.uk is specialist Carbon Consultancy and Training Company, based in London. It is the strategic partner of the Canadian Standards Association for the ISO 14064 Standards of Greenhouse Gas Management and has served government and corporate clients on 5 continents. It is part of the Chris Mee Group www.cmse.ie , an Environment Health and Safety Company based in Ireland.