Understanding Carbon Emissions

Factory pipes smoke

Carbon emission is one of the hottest issues in the world of energy and environment today. While it is supposedly an essential component of the ecosystem, it has already become a large contributing factor to climate change. Carbon emission might be good but abuse of this natural process has made it harmful to people across the globe.

This series of articles aims to help people understand the intricacies of carbon emission and what society can do to efficiently manage this natural occurrence.

Natural Carbon Cycle

Two important elements in the carbon cycle are carbon, which is present in every living thing all over the world; and oxygen, which is found in the air that people breathe. When these two bond together, they create a colourless and odourless greenhouse gas known as carbon dioxide, which is then crucial to trapping infrared radiation heat in the atmosphere and also for weathering rocks.

Carbon is not only found in the atmosphere of the earth. It is also an element found in oceans, plants, coal deposits, oil and natural gas from deep down the earth’s core. Through the carbon cycle, carbon moves naturally from one portion of the earth to another. Looking at this scenario, one can see that the natural carbon cycle is a healthy way to release carbon dioxide into the air in order to be absorbed again by trees and plants.

Altered Carbon Cycle

The natural circulation of carbon among the atmosphere is vital to humankind. However, studies show that humans misuse this natural cycle and abuse it instead. Whenever people burn fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, they produce carbon dioxide – which is an excess addition to the natural flow of carbon in the environment. The problem is that the release of carbon dioxide is much more than what plants and trees can re-absorb. People are not only adding CO2 to the atmosphere, they are also influencing the ability of natural sinks, such as forests, to remove it from the atmosphere. Humans alter the carbon cycle by contributing doubled or tripled greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, faster than nature can ever eliminate. Worst, nature’s balance is destroyed.

The Result

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gas and other gases. Although these gasses contribute to climate change, carbon dioxide is the largest greenhouse gas that humans emit. The reason why people talk about carbon emissions most, is because we produce more carbon dioxide than any other greenhouse gas.

The increasing amount of carbon emissions cause global warming to become more evident. All the extra carbon dioxide causes the earth’s overall temperature to rise as well. As the temperature increases, climate also changes unpredictably. Flood, droughts, heat waves and hurricanes are now widely experienced even in places where these phenomenon never used to happen.

To be able to reduce the risk of more severe weather conditions means burning less fossil fuels and shifting more to renewable sources. This is never easy. But, definitely, it’s worth a try.

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Sources of Carbon Emissions

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Exchange of carbon dioxide among the atmosphere, land surface and oceans is performed by humans, animals, plants and even microorganisms. With this, they are the ones responsible for both producing and absorbing carbon in the environment. Nature’s cycle of CO2 emission and removal was once balanced, however, the Industrial Revolution began and the carbon cycle started to go wrong. The fact is that human activities substantially contributed to the addition of CO2 in the atmosphere.

According to statistics gathered by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, carbon dioxide comprises 82% of UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2012. This makes carbon dioxide the main greenhouse gas contributing to the pollution and subsequent climate change in UK.

Types of Carbon Emissions

There are two types of carbon emissions – direct and indirect. It is easier to measure the direct emissions of carbon dioxide, which includes the electricity and gas people use in their homes, the petrol burned in cars, distance of flights taken and other carbon emissions people are personally responsible for. Various tools are already available to measure direct emissions each day.

Indirect emissions, on the other hand, include the processes involved in manufacturing food and products and transporting them to users’ doors. It is a bit difficult to accurately measure the amount of indirect emission.

Sources of Carbon Emissions

The sources of carbon emissions refer to the sectors of end-users that directly emit them. They include the energy, transport, business, residential, agriculture, waste management, industrial processes and public sectors. Let’s learn how these sources contribute carbon emissions to the environment.

Energy Supply

The power stations that burn coal, oil or gas to generate electricity hold the largest portion of the total carbon emissions. The carbon dioxide is emitted from boilers at the bottom of the chimney. The electricity, produced from the fossil fuel combustion, emits carbon as it is supplied to homes, commercial establishments and other energy users.

Transport

The second largest carbon-emitting source is the transport sector. This results from the fuels burned in diesel and petrol to propel cars, railways, shipping vehicles, aircraft support vehicles and aviation, transporting people and products from one place to another. The longer the distance travelled, the more fuel is used and the more carbon is emitted.

Business

This comprises carbon emissions from combustion in the industrial and commercial sectors, off-road machinery, air conditioning and refrigeration.

Residential

Heating houses and using electricity in the house, produce carbon dioxide. The same holds true to cooking and using garden machinery at home.

Agriculture

The agricultural sector also produces carbon dioxide from soils, livestock, immovable combustion sources and other machinery associated with agricultural activities.

Waste Management

Disposing of wastes to landfill sites, burning them and treating waste water also emit carbon dioxide and contributes to global warming.

Industrial Processes

The factories that manufacture and process products and food also release CO2 , especially those factories that manufacture steel and iron.

Public

Public sector buildings that generate power from fuel combustion also add to the list of carbon emission sources, from heating to other public energy needs.

Everybody needs energy and people burn fossil fuels to create it. Knowing how our energy use affects the environment, as a whole, enables us to take a step ahead towards achieving better climate.

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Key Steps to Complying with ESOS

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Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme has already been launched. In fact, it is by now in its initial phase. However, many businesses are still not aware of the new scheme, especially those who are covered by the qualifications for ESOS. To help them understand what they need to do in compliance to the energy efficiency strategy, here are key steps they can follow along the way.

Measure Overall Energy Consumption

The first step to complying with ESOS is to make an initial estimate of the business’ energy consumption. This includes measuring the use of electricity, renewable energy, combustible fuels and all other forms of energy consumed whether in buildings, transports and industrial processes.

Three important factors to consider are the measurement units used, the reference period and quality of data. Energy units, such as MWh and GJ, or energy expenditure costs should be applied. Business enterprises should also do the initial measurement within a reference period of 12 months. Moreover, data collected should be verifiable at hand.

Identify Areas of Significant Energy Consumption

When the total energy consumption for all the activities and assets has already been estimated, it’s then time to identify what areas in the organisation comprise the significant portion of the overall energy usage. The areas recognised should cover at least 90% of the overall consumption. Meaning to say, ESOS participants have the chance to omit 10% of the energy consumption and instead focus on the 90%. This would ensure that subsequent energy audits will be cost-effective and proportionate.

Consider and Choose Compliance Routes

In order to comply with ESOS, qualified businesses should consider what compliance routes to take. These routes include taking series of energy audits, operating and implementing a certified ISO 50001 energy management system, acquiring Display Energy Certificates (DECs) and working with Green Deal assessments. Whichever route the business takes, one should maintain credible evidences, along with helpful documents, to certify their compliance.

Report the Compliance

Except when the large enterprise covers all the significant areas of energy consumption by means of ISO 50001 certification, one should appoint a lead assessor to supervise, conduct and review the organisation’s chosen ESOS compliance route. In this case, the approved assessments should then be signed off at board level to ensure that the conclusions and recommendations for energy savings are properly carried. To confirm their compliance, the business should submit a formal notification to the Environment Agency.

Because ESOS is not just an opportunity but also an obligation, it designated compliance bodies and gave them the authority to file civil penalties towards those who fail to comply with the scheme. Not only that, these appropriate authorities have the right to publish information about non-compliant enterprises including their name, details of non-compliance and corresponding penalty amount. Among these UK compliance bodies are Natural Resources Wales, Environment Agency in England, The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

So, if you are covered with the ESOS qualifications, make sure to be informed. As the famous saying goes, “Ignorance of the law excuses no one.” Likewise, awareness of ESOS is a responsibility every large business in UK should give importance to.

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