Avina on Emissions Tracking

John Avina, C.E.M.
Director, Abraxas Energy Consulting
August 12, 2010


When I was an Energy Analyst at JCI, my conscience was always reassured that I was doing good work by being involved in saving energy and natural resources. When I explained at a party what I did for money, people always approved. It was almost as popular as being in the solar energy or wind power business. However, as soon as I opened my mouth, their eyes glazed over and they started to drift away to the more colorful figures in the room, because, you know, nobody wants to know more than a sentence or two about our field.

One of the benefits of saving energy is that we are at the same time increasing our air quality, and many believe that we may be putting off global warming at the same time. I always wanted to quantify the reduction in emissions associated with the reduction in energy use. It would make the customer and I feel a little better about our jobs. But, as we were always busy putting out fires here and there, I never got a chance. When I worked at SRC Systems (the creator of Metrix), some Metrix users suggested that we insert an emissions module into Metrix so that they could see savings in energy, dollars, and tons of pollutants. I thought that this was a fantastic idea, but we just never found the time to get it done.

Well, finally, we, at Abraxas Energy Consulting have created the tool, which you can find at www.abraxasenergy.com/emissions. You can enter kWh in monthly or annual periods and get back a nice report showing tons (or pounds) of CO2, CO, NOx, SO2, VOCs, PM10 and Mercury. For example, Metrix users might want to enter Baseline and Actual kWh. The tool is free, and I hope you will use it. It is there for you.

What follows is some background on emissions, emissions monitoring and tracking, in case you want to sound intelligent when talking to your customer or boss.


To start with, emissions can be grouped into two major areas of concern: those emissions that pollute the air, cause acid rain, and kill wildlife and older people (CO, NOx, SO2, VOCs, PM10, Mercury and others), and Greenhouse Gases that may lead to global warming (CO2, water vapor, methane and others). The Clean Air Act and tough EPA standards have done much to reduce air pollution in US cities. It is said that the air in Los Angeles is cleaner today than it was 30 years ago.

There has been a raging debate over the past decade about CO2 emissions and global warming. During the late 90s, it appeared that the United States was on the verge of accepting the thesis that global warming is due in large part to human consumption of fossil fuels and consequent production of CO2. The Kyoto Protocol was put into place to address CO2 emissions. However, the Kyoto Protocol was never ratified by Congress during the Clinton years (neither Democrats or Republicans took a liking to it), nor does it appear that it will ever be ratified in this country. As well, many are now arguing that Global Warming may have little to do with human activity at all. As the Arctic permafrost melts, more are now arguing that the planet is still recovering from an ice age a thousand years ago, that climate change just happens, and we are entering a period of greater climate change activity, which, in this instance has little to do with human activity.

In any case, the Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Air Act and tough EPA standards have begun to put into place governmental controls limiting the burning of fossil fuels. In many areas of the country those who surpass their emissions quota are paying steep fines.

The Extent of Emissions Monitoring Today and in the Near Future

Emissions monitoring has become commonplace in both the Utility and the Commercial and Industrial Sector. Approximately 35 states have state-wide permit programs for air pollution. Under the Clean Air Act, permits are issued by states or, when a state fails to carry out the Clean Air Act satisfactorily, by the EPA. In some areas (deemed “non-attainment areas”), the EPA has set limits on NOx, SOx and/or VOCs.

The Supreme Court recently ruled favorably on an EPA request on cleaner air standards. This will directly affect anything that burns gas, coal or oil. We are now in the 3-5 year period in which these new rules that will be implemented. What will happen is that some locales’ status will change from attainment (meeting clean air standards) to non-attainment (not meeting clean air standards, and permitting required). When new areas become non-attainment areas, industry in that area will be forced to track emissions.

It is suspected by many that in the future, CO2 emissions limits will also be enforced. (This is more likely in Europe than in the United States.) If CO2 limits are enforced, then the impact of CO2 standards has the potential to dramatically affect energy usage decisions.

However on the other hand, nobody believes that the United States Congress will ratify the Kyoto Treaty (which limits CO2 emissions). Many believe that the Kyoto Treaty would make CO2 abatement needlessly expensive, and there are others who believe global warming has little to do with human activity anyway.

Estimating Air Emissions for Fossil Fuels and Stored Materials

The only emissions monitored are those associated with the burning of fossil fuels and the storage of some materials which generate toxic emissions. kWh are not monitored for emissions, and the discussion in this section does not address electricity.

There are three ways to monitor emissions of air contaminants:

  • Annual or Biannual stack tests. This is a very expensive option.
  • Continual Emissions Monitoring systems (CEM systems). This is also an expensive option.
  • Parametric Monitoring, also know as AP42. This method converts fuel and electricity usage into emissions amounts using EPA emissions factors. This is the least expensive and most common method.
  • The EPA usually will accept emissions data gathered using the AP42 method. However these emissions factors are averages and are based upon older less efficient equipment and may err on the high side. As a result some may choose alternative methods of tracking emissions. AP42 Emissions Factors for fossil fuels can be downloaded from the EPA website.

Estimating Emissions Associated with Electricity Usage

The EPA does not offer AP42 factors that convert kWh into emissions. Although the generation of electricity is often associated with pollutants fouling the air, this is not always the case. Electricity generation using Nuclear, Solar, Wind and Hydro does not pollute the air at all. Depending upon the hour of the day, the electricity used by an office building may come from Coal and Natural Gas which foul the air, or Nuclear, Solar or Hydro, which do not.

There are a few lists of emissions factors that convert kWh into likely amounts of emissions. The Department of Energy offers emissions factors that convert electricity into emissions. However, the Leonardo Academy, https://www.leonardoacademy.org , produced a more substantial list of emissions (CO2, VOCs, NOX, CO, SO2, PM10, Mercury, Cadmium and Lead) factors for the EPA in 1998, that Leonardo updates yearly using EPA Data. These emission factors are listed by State. Although there is no consensus on statewide emissions factors for electricity, reasonable estimates can be found using these factors.

Where to Get More Information

If you want more information on emissions monitoring, there is an excellent glossary of emissions terms at www.arb.ca.gov/html/gloss.htm, and our friends at Leonardo Academy have resources at their site as well: www.leonardoacademy.org.

Avina’s Primer on Emissions Tracking Abraxas Energy Consulting is now hosting a free online Emissions Calculator that you can use in your savings reports.