Navigant Research Blog

The Next Frontier for Large Consumers of Renewable Thermal Energy: Gaps and Opportunities

— June 18, 2018

Bryn Baker, WWF, coauthored this blog.

Renewable energy for heating and cooling applications has received relatively little attention compared to renewable electricity, despite large and growing demand for renewable thermal solutions. The Renewable Thermal Collaborative (RTC) is putting greater focus on this topic, led by companies like Mars, P&G, and General Motors and cities like the City of Philadelphia.

The Opportunity

Energy used for heating and cooling makes up approximately 50% of total global final energy demand and 39% of energy-related CO2 emissions. In the US, industrial manufacturing, which mostly consumes thermal energy, accounts for one-third of the nation’s total energy use. In the European Union, heating and cooling accounts for half of the total energy consumption, and within the industry accounts for over 70%.

The carbon reduction potential is significant. This, together with thermal users setting goals to cut emissions and shift to renewable energy, makes the call for clean thermal solutions imperative.

The First Barrier

The inconsistencies around the accounting methods used to assess the emissions impact of renewable thermal projects is slowing deployment and impeding decision-making. The lack of consensus around which methodologies to use is leading to confusion by users and incomplete assessments of the emissions and emissions inventories.

A new Navigant report, Renewable Heating and Cooling for Industrial Applications: Guidance for Carbon Accounting, developed with the RTC, reviews the methodologies for six project types (see table below) and recommends a single methodology for each type to simplify guidance for end-users. The report finds that some distilling of the range of methodologies is possible, but that significant gaps remain in accounting for bioenergy projects.


For four bioenergy project types—ranging from burning biomass waste and residues, virgin wood, or biogas—the report recommends one methodology (BioGrace-II) that is the most comprehensive compared to others but it excludes a calculation for three categories of emissions: 1) biogenic emissions, 2) conversion of natural forest to plantations, and 3) indirect land use change, which could result in a significant underestimate of emissions.

These three gaps indicate where work is needed to develop methodologies and build consensus around how users treat these emissions. This is important both to facilitate informed decision-making about the emissions impact of projects and to create a complete emissions inventory.

The report recommends using bioenergy from residual sources instead of virgin materials as the methodological caveats are most relevant for the latter. Navigant and RTC’s report is the first step in clarifying methodologies and identifying ways to provide clarity and guidance going forward.

The RTC is now working to assess approaches for accounting for biogenic emissions from a user perspective and making recommendations that can be adopted into accounting processes. Other stakeholder groups are addressing the gaps around land use change and the RTC will support these efforts.

Beyond bioenergy projects, two project types—ground source heat-pumps and waste heat recovery (from burning fossil fuels)—have either a consensus methodology or an uncontroversial calculation method that can be used. For recovered heat, a straightforward method was proposed, though no widely accepted methodology exists. Therefore, consensus was more clear-cut for these project types.

Recommended Methodologies by Project Type

(Source: Navigant and Renewable Thermal Collaborative)

The Next Frontier

In the not too distant future, candy, paper products, and cars may be made in factories that no longer rely on fossil fuels for process heat. The same shift is coming for cities, hospitals, and universities. Renewable thermal represents another frontier in the low carbon transition where stakeholders are joining forces to pioneer solutions. Getting the emissions accounting right is an important first step on that journey.

To learn more and download the report, visit Renewable Thermal Collaborative.


US Alpine Resorts Leveraging Their Power for Climate Solutions

— May 31, 2018

A quiet revolution is happening at US alpine ski resorts. As resorts grapple with climate change, they are moving to decarbonize the power grid. Resort companies are engaging with utilities and state commissions and piloting technologies. Ski mountain operators are learning that the benefits of taking progressive steps go beyond the lifts, trails, and lodges to help support efforts to shift to clean energy.

Working with Utilities

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows in California aim to be 100% renewable by December 2018. They are working with Liberty Utilities on renewable energy and with Tesla on a microgrid project with battery storage that will store the energy for backup power for the resort and community.

In Michigan, the owners of Crystal Mountain are leading a similar dialogue. Starting with clean energy for the Clipper chairlift, they want to move from 56% carbon-free energy to 100% by working closely with the Cherryland Electric and Wolverine Power Cooperatives. The operators of Crystal have also invested in geothermal solutions to heat and cool buildings.

Influencing Public Commissions

As an example of the influence of ski resorts, the owners of Crystal Mountain chair Governor Rick Snyder’s Utility Consumer Participation Board (UCPB) in Michigan. They are intervening in a utility rate case on behalf of residential ratepayers in support of the closure of five coal plants.

In Colorado, Aspen Skiing Company and Alterra (its new sister organization) are supporting a proposal by Xcel Energy to close two coal burning power plants. The plan calls for Colorado to shift from 29% renewable energy to 55% by 2026. It would retire 660 MW of coal generation by 2026 and reduce Colorado’s emissions 60% below 2005 levels. In March, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission permitted Xcel to present the Clean Energy Plan for consideration as part of the state electric resource plan.

Onsite Renewables

Berkshire East in Massachusetts is one of the only ski areas in the world to generate 100% of electricity onsite. In 2011, it began running a 900 kWh wind turbine. A year later, it leased a site to build an 1,800-panel, 500 kWh solar farm. Berkshire’s wind turbine was made possible by grants from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, administered through the Renewable Energy Trust Fund. The resort is also piloting a biofuel electric generator and a microgrid storage system, initiatives that were honored with an Environmental Protection Agency award. Berkshire runs a Renewable Energy Classroom to teach about its portfolio of technologies.

Also in Massachusetts, Jiminy Peak installed a 1.5 MW wind turbine named Zephyr that provides 33% of electrical demand. During the winter when winds are strong, Zephyr provides as much as half the electricity needed. Jiminy received a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The resort also hosts a 2.3 MW community solar facility located on 12 acres—the largest community solar project in the Northeast.

Net Zero Frontiers

Before the UN COP 21 in 2015, Park City in Utah committed to net zero emissions communitywide by 2032. Similarly, Vail Resorts is pursuing a commitment called Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint. This ambitious plan commits to net zero emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfill by 2030, and net zero impact to forests and habitat.

These goals are dazzling, but all ski resorts could benefit from a 2030 roadmap to inspire them to follow guides for decarbonizing the industry. Heat and transport are additional frontiers for the ski resort industry’s low carbon transition. Globally, the share of heat that is considered renewable is 10% for heating and 4% for transport. At alpine resorts, the north star should be 100% for both.


In a “Daytona 500” Rally for Climate Pledges, 2018’s Race Is on from Davos to Denver

— April 5, 2018

At the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, challenged 500 businesses to set a science-based target (SBT) aligned with the Paris Agreement ahead of September 2018’s Global Climate Action Summit in California (dubbed the Mahindra Challenge). Today, there are 369 companies committed to the SBT Initiative.

Racing Forward

On March 1, 2018, companies raced forward with pledges at the 2018 Climate Leadership Conference (CLC) in Denver. VISA committed to 100% renewable energy by 2019 and L’Oréal intends to reach carbon neutrality across all its US-based facilities after a deal to procure renewable landfill gas. After being bestowed CLC awards, 15 other companies also put points on the scoreboard.

At WEF New York on March 20, McDonald’s put forward its Scale for Good climate commitment as the first restaurant company to adopt a SBT, including:

  • Partnering with franchisees to reduce restaurant and office emissions offices 36% by 2030 below a 2015 base year.
  • Collaborating with suppliers and producers, McDonald’s committed to a 31% reduction in emissions intensity per metric ton of food and packaging across the supply chain by 2030 below 2015 levels.

McDonald’s expects to prevent 150 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent from being released to the atmosphere by 2030.

On March 27, MIT hosted the XLI Global Change Forum with the title, Science-Based Targets: Rationale and Challenge. The opening panel was led by Navigant and highlighted the practice of setting targets with two pharma titans, Novartis and Biogen, and perspectives from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Officials and Race Organizers

The SBT Initiative defines and promotes best practices in target setting and offers guidance to reduce barriers, and independently assesses and approves companies’ targets. It also maintains an online site that lists all companies setting SBTs.

We Mean Business (WMB) is a global coalition of the most influential businesses acting on climate change. It catalyzes businesses to drive policy and accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy. WMB maintains an online site that recognizes companies taking action.

We Are Still In is a national coalition of more than 2,700 cities, states, businesses, and universities demonstrating an American commitment to tackling climate change, a clean energy future, and upholding the Paris Agreement. To date, We Are Still In is the largest US coalition in support of climate action.

SBT setting is already a part of the yearly CDP climate questionnaire and scoring process, and the data is used regularly by institutional investors.

Publicize a Pledge

Companies have sights set on four events: the Global Climate Action Summit, Climate Week NYC, UNFCCC COP24, and WEF 2019 Davos. At these events, and at the BSR and Net Impact conferences, new climate pledges will be publicized. 

Why Is 2018 a Special Year?

Public awareness focuses on five things as 2018 serves as a pivot point:

  1. The June 2017 White House announcement threatening the Paris Agreement
  2. As global stock takes dates, 2020 and 2030 loom closer on the calendar
  3. Climate impacts are getting more intense
  4. Investors and other stakeholders are demanding plans (e.g., Black Rock)
  5. Governor Brown hosting the Global Climate Action Summit in California

Tuning Up Strategies

Like Daytona, engines in the race to tackle climate change need tuning. From diagnostics to data management to testing the efficacy of abatement measures, Navigant improves strategies, gets them approved and recognized, and identifies the best places for amplification on a global stage. Now is the time to join the 2018 race. Start your engines!


“Basing” Corporate Emissions Targets

— February 6, 2018

Global Emissions Goalposts Are Captivating C-Suites and Gaining Velocity in Corporations Around the World

In boardrooms worldwide, an interesting discussion is occurring as iconic brands and corporate titans reform their journeys to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as their strategies for protecting the climate. Mindsets were rebooted by the 3% Solution and the Science Based Targets Initiative, and were energized by the global Paris Agreement, leading to waves of bold pledges from corporations. What are factors that make these concepts concrete for executives deciding on goals?

Putting the “Based” in Science-Based

Dating back to the mid-1990s, businesses developed emissions goals with arbitrary reduction numbers, intending to one-up a competitor or tag to a year with marketable slogans like “15% by 2015.” So why are science-based targets (SBTs) suddenly resonating as executives deliberate long-term objectives? Well, it looks like it’s more about the “based” than it is about the “science.” It’s not that science is uninteresting to corporations, it just isn’t the only impetus for speed and adoption of the SBT approach to target setting. On topics of environmental protection, businesses often make a public case for certainty or a level playing field. Internal specialists tasked with emissions now have a tool that provides both of these even without a domestic compliance and regulatory framework in place to address GHGs. Many corporate anecdotes suggest that revising the terminology is also key to promoting the SBT concept, and although different terms are used (context-based, evidence-based, responsibility-based, even value-based targets), they appear to achieve the same outcome.

“Based” targets are winning out in a marketplace of climate goal concepts that is sometimes confusing; it’s about time there is one dominant framework. There’s carbon neutral, climate neutrality, net-zero, net-positive, and even drawdown. Some have fallen out of favor because they require too much explanation while others signal new frontiers. “Based” targets are here to stay, and their current traction is similar to previous standards and certifications, such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council. The way it plays out, industry leaders or first movers set a target based on the sector’s emissions budget and others follow suit, either exceeding the leader, or chasing that level of ambition. There are now 339 multinational companies committed to setting a target that follows the pathway to 2°. More of those companies are from the US than from any other nation in the world.

So What?

More than anything else, this concept helps internal discussions with the C-suite when a specialist can tell leadership that, by setting an SBT, the company is identifying its share of reductions in relation to the global emissions challenge and that cuts its footprint within the emissions budget for the sector and industry. Putting an emissions goal into a global context makes sense to internal stakeholders in a way that definitively makes a case for “how do we do our share?” It also makes sense to external investors and advocacy stakeholders that are starting to ask companies when they will have a science-based target—or why they haven’t set one yet.

Basing targets on global data is here to stay. Executives like the linearity of setting targets; 89 companies had them approved by the SBT Initiative in 2017. How can you take the next steps? 2018 is the year!

If you are looking at what paths to take, contact Matthew Banks for information on the projects and services Navigant’s Sustainability Team can offer as a strategy partner.


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