While Erin and I are working to reduce the energy use (and therefore GHG impact), we know that we will always have some impact. We very much like our refrigerator and television and are not going to do without them. For the energy we do use, we’ve decided to purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the GHGs emitted. Actually – this was decided in 2014 however I never made it happen. It’s about time I got back at this.
Tracking Energy Use
Back in late 2014 we embarked on a plan to track our home energy use in an effort to reduce the energy we use to heat, cool and power our home. At that time I contacted Manitoba Hydro and asked for our electricity consumption numbers for 2013. I found out we used 16,537 kW.h (kilowatt hours) of electricity for the entire year which is about 63% of the energy used in the average two person Manitoban household.
The plan was to track our energy use annually and to then purchase carbon credits to offset the climate impact of the energy we used. That plan sort of stalled…but it’s time we climbed back up on that horse.
Using Manitoba Hydro’s MyBill online account tool, I was able to collect our energy consumption numbers for 2015, and part of 2014. I’ll have to once again contact hydro to get the full 2014 numbers. So last year, we apparently used 18,356 kW.h to run our home. As you can see, that’s 1,819 more kW.h than in 2013. This increase could be the result of a number of factors, from more extreme weather (colder winter or warmer summer days), or it could simply be that we were not as diligent as we’ve been in the past in managing our daily energy use. This is something we’ll have to dig into later, but for now, I have two years of energy use data which I can now use to purchase carbon offsets.
Carbon Offset Credits
Carbon offset credits are basically certified reductions of GHGs (usually measured in metric tonnes of CO2 equivalents) achieved by a business or some project. A credit represents the difference between the amount of CO2e the business or project would have produced if they used normal methods to achieve the same end. My plan back in 2014 was to offset the greenhouse gas impact of our home energy use by purchasing carbon offset credits.
After researching carbon offset purchasing (special thanks to the David Suzuki Foundation for the basic primer on carbon offsets), I decided to buy our gold standard offsets from Planetair.
Planetair Carbon Offsets
Visiting the Planetair website is a bit confusing at first but you soon figure it out. They have a handy “quick calculator” for those who happen to know how many tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (CO2e) they want to offset. And they also provide some quick offsets for the average Canadian emissions for car use, household use and citizen impact. More on the citizen impact later.
I signed up for an account with Planetair and proceeded to calculate my 2013 home energy use GHG impacts. I selected Manitoba as my province and entered the 16,537 kW.h into the cell provided and clicked save. As you can see however, the tool reported 0 tonnes of CO2e. This, I assume, is because the GHG emissions intensity of Manitoba Hydro’s electricity (ie the amount of CO2e created per kW.h generated) is extremely low due to the fact that the vast majority of their generation is from hydro-electric dams. So apparently Planetair rounds this impact down to zero. Fine, I figure, I’ll just do this the hard way. I’ll calculate my own CO2e total for my energy use.
I searched high and low on the internet for Manitoba Hydro’s GHG intensity tables. I know they previously published these online because when I developed Assiniboine Credit Union’s first GHG tracking and reporting system, I used the table to calculate the impact of our annual energy use. I could not find the tables however. That said, I did find Manitoba Hydro’s 2014-15 Climate Change Report. Inside the report I found a table that indicated their intensity was 2.6 tonnes of CO2e per gigawatt hour. This equates to 0.0000026 tonnes per kilowatt hour. As you can see from their chart – this compares very favorably to other jurisdictions. For example, Saskatchewan’s emission intensity is 690 tonnes of CO2e per gigawatt hour or over 265 times the impact here in Manitoba.
For fun, I went back to the Plantair site and changed the province setting to Saskatchewan to see the comparison. That made a huge difference. The impact goes from zero to almost 12 tonnes. Zero isn’t the correct Manitoba impact however so I used the intensity factor found the Manitoba Hydro report and calculated the actual impact:
0.0000026 tonnes CO2e/kW.h X 16,537 kW.h = 0.04 tonnes CO2e
As you can see, it was reasonable for the Planetair tool to round down to zero. When I entered this tonnage into their quick calculator I found the cost of offsetting this impact was a whopping $1.07. This is a pretty ridiculously small amount. Given the transactional costs of accepting payments online, I’m not going to proceed with this purchase. In a few days, on May 1st, I’ll be calculating the GHG impact of my car use for the past 12 months. I’ll roll these two impacts together and make one purchase. By that time, I should have our 2014 electricity consumption numbers from Manitoba Hydro and I’ll be able to offset three years of home energy and one year of car travel.
One of the benchmarks I had been looking for in 2014 when I started thinking about our personal GHG impacts, was the average Canadian impact. I found a lot of total national numbers which when divided by the Canadian population gave you an average. This is a good start, but it essentially takes the commercial and industrial impacts and rolls them into the number. This basically makes each Canadian responsible for a portion of the total market’s impact (including exports) and excludes impacts we create in other countries from via the stuff we import. It’s a flawed number to be sure, but I was unable to find a credible number calculated from “basket” approach. That is to say, calculating a number by examining the impacts of individual choices (travel, food, home energy use, clothing, etc) and rolling them up.
The top-down approach does offer the benefit of linking our personal responsibility with our responsibilities as a citizen in this democratic society. Theoretically at least, we are accountable for these results because we’ve selected the regulatory and economic environment that produced this impact via our ballot box and consumer choices. Not sure that I’m comfortable with this idea – it will likely be a topic of another blog post. This data is however reported by our government in its GHG Inventory and readily available for annual comparisons. Check out their Greenhouse Gas Emissions per Person and per Unit Gross Domestic Product page. In 2013, the GHG impact of the average Canadian was 20.8 tonnes CO2e.
I’ve taken the energy use data I have so far and started a spreadsheet to keep better track of our use and to perform better analysis on the results. Because so much of the result is a result of weather (we heat our home with an electric furnace) – there will be some annual variation that will far out weight the impacts we create by installing LED bulbs or unplugging unused electronics to reduce “phantom” draw. I may make some effort to normalize the energy data to take out weather variation and see if we can achieve some year over year energy use reductions. I’m also going to record (and hopefully blog about) the actions we’ve taken to reduce our use.
More to come