Tag Archives: carbon emissions

Energy Efficiency in the NFL: Declaring a Champion

The National Football League (NFL) has been making immense strides towards implementing strategies for energy efficiency and sustainability in recent years, recognizing the money that could be saved on stadium power bills as well as the influence of being stewards of environmentally friendly practices (taking a page out of the books of the number of beers brewed with renewable energy that are served in NFL stadiums!). Whether these efforts are marked by using recycled materials or installing solar panels in stadiums, sponsoring events for the recycling of electronic waste, or using interactive digital media guides instead of printed guides, it seems that NFL teams are constantly working to one-up each other for the title of greenest, most energy-efficient team.

So why keep that hypothetical?!

What if the 2017-18 NFL season played out according to the teams who performed best on a (admittedly pretty arbitrary) ‘green scale?’ That’s exactly what I do in this article, playing out the whole 16 game schedule for all NFL teams, making my way through the playoffs, and ultimately declaring a Super-Efficient Bowl Champion!



Methodology and rankings

A note before starting—this analysis is pretty subjective, could go any number of ways depending on types of data chosen to analyze, and is merely meant to be a fun exercise praising teams who have put effort into energy efficiency. Nothing is meant to be taken overly serious, so don’t be offended if your team rates lowly or there are certain energy efficiency efforts of your team I was unaware of and thus didn’t account for. That said, if there’s additional interesting information I haven’t captured, please do let me know in the comments!

To play out the season, several pieces of data were gathered and then quantified for each team to determine which team was the most efficient. A team’s efficiency score comprised the following:

  1. The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score of each team’s home city, as determined by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE);
  2. The level of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification achieved by a team’s home stadium, as determined by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), or, when LEED certification was not reached, the presence (or lack thereof) of significant sustainability practices at the stadium;
  3. The total round trip distance traveled by the team during the 2017-18 season to all eight of its away games; and
  4. The distance to a team’s stadium from the geographic center of the home city.

These various factors are normalized on a scale of 0 to 100 to determine a team’s efficiency score.

To make things more interesting than just having a single list of teams ranked from 1 to 32 of most-efficient scoring to least efficient-efficient scoring (and thus making the ultimate champion obvious before the games are even played out), each team is awarded a ‘Home-Efficiency Score’ (HES) and an ‘Away-Efficiency Score’ (AES). The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score and the LEED certification factor into both the HES and AES, however the round trip distance traveled (which pertains to teams traveling to their away games) only factors in to the AES, while the distance to a team’s stadium from the city’s geographic center  (which pertains to the average distance home-team fans are likely to travel to watch a home game) only factors into the HES.

As such, the HES is the simple average of above factors 1, 2, and 4, while the AES is the simple average of above factors 1, 2, and 3.

1. 2017 City Energy Efficiency Score

Again, these scores are on a scale of 0 to 100 and are awarded by ACEEE. In determining the City Energy Efficiency Score, ACEEE takes into account local government operations, community-wide initiatives, buildings policies, energy and water utilities, and transportation policies.

Most NFL teams either play in or clearly represent one of the cities that is scored by ACEEE in this annual list. However, there were a few notable exceptions that had to be addressed separately:

  • The Packers play and represent Green Bay, Wisconsin. Green Bay is an extremely small city compared with typical cities with professional sports teams,and wasn’t on the list. The city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin was used from the ACEEE score card due to it being the closest major metropolitan area to Green Bay and the high concentration of Packers fans throughout the state of Wisconsin.
  • The Raiders play and represent Oakland, California (though they are soon moving to Las Vegas, Nevada—but that is for another season so it won’t affect their 2017 score). With Oakland not in the ACEEE list, the next best city to use was San Francisco, California due to the proximity of these metropolitan areas.
  • The Bills play and represent Buffalo, New York. There were no representative cities in the ACEEE scorecard in the Upstate New York region. This analysis used ended up using the average of all NFL cities since it seemed fair to avoid rewarding or punishing Buffalo for the lack of data on its performance and instead award it a middle of the pack rating.

The following table summarizes the scores received for each of the 32 NFL teams based on the ACEEE score of their designated cities:

Click to enlarge.

2. Stadium LEED certification or other initiatives

While an NFL team might not have much it can do to influence its city’s ACEEE City Energy Efficiency Score, one thing they can control is how energy efficient their stadium is. Each team will typically play eight games in their home stadium during the course of an NFL season (more if you count preseason and playoffs). Football teams sometimes fall under more scrutiny for the sustainability (or lack thereof) of their stadiums compared with other sports that have dozens of home games per year, because so much land and so many resources are being used for the bigger football stadiums that get used a fraction of the time.

Such factors make the energy efficiency and general sustainability of football stadiums more crucial, and in recent years there have been a handful of stadiums that have pursued LEED certification for their stadiums. LEED is a program from the USGBC that certifies all sorts of buildings, including stadiums, based on their design, construction, operation, and maintenance. New buildings often strive to be LEED certified before blueprints are even drawn up, though existing buildings can also be retrofitted to comply and be certified as a LEED building.

Based on the points awarded (out of a possible 100), buildings can be classified as:

  • 40-49 points is LEED Certified;
  • 50-59 points is LEED Silver;
  • 60-79 points is LEED Gold; and
  • 80-100 points is LEED Platinum.

These 100 possible points are awarded based on the categories of Location & Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality, and Innovation in Design. There are an additional 10 points that can be earned based on Regional Priority and Innovation.

As such, the points awarded in this analysis to NFL stadiums that are LEED certified will correlate with the minimum points necessary to reach that level of certification (e.g, a team with a LEED Silver stadium will be awarded 50 points). Additionally, many stadiums do have significant sustainability efforts in their stadiums but they have not yet pursued or achieved LEED status. To give due credit to these initial steps, stadiums who are found to have other efficiency and sustainability initiatives at their stadiums will be awarded 10 points (representing the additional 10 points LEED makes awardable outside of the base 100 points).

The following table summarizes the scores received for each of the 32 NFL teams based on the LEED certification or sustainability initiatives found for their stadiums*:

Click to enlarge.

*The sources for all of these stadium initiatives can be found in the ‘Sources and additional reading’ section at the end of the article. One stadium worth noting is the AT&T Stadium of the Dallas Cowboys. It is possible to find literature citing that they are aiming to reduce energy use by 20% per year, they were still counted without any major initiatives. The reason for this is because any concrete completed projects towards this goal could not be identified, in addition to the fact that at peak draw the energy-use starting point was using three times the amount of energy the whole nation of Liberia can produce—this idea makes it hard to award points just yet until the stated goals are realized.

3. Total round trip distance traveled to away games

Another large energy expense of every NFL team is that amount of travel required for each team to go to each of its away games. Some teams are centrally located compared with their common opponents and thus able to take buses or trains, while other teams find themselves in cross country trips several times a year that require the use of a privately chartered airplane. The traveling process varies team-by-team, but the total number of people traveling to each game ranges from 135 to 200, bringing with them up to 16,000 pounds of equipment (which will travel by 18-wheeler truck for all but the longest of trips). Most traveling is done by privately chartered planes, at a costs high enough that the Patriots found it cost-effective to become the first team to own their own team planes.

All of these factors use up a massive amount of transportation fuel, and the best proxy available for how much energy each team’s travel will account for in the 2017 season is to look at who is traveling the furthest distance to games away from their home stadium (accounting for traditional away games in other teams’ stadiums as well as any games taking place at a third location, such as a number of games taking place in England during the 2017 season).

The following table summarizes the total travel miles for each of the 32 NFL teams during the 2017 season, as well as a score normalized out of 100—where 0 represents the number of miles traveled by the team with the most road miles and 100 representing a hypothetical team that would travel zero total miles:

Click to enlarge.

4. Distance from city center to stadium

The last factor considered in this analysis examines how far fans would have to travel to get to a home game of their favorite NFL team. While the ideal data for this would be to find the average distance that fans who bought tickets, or even just season ticket holders, lived from the stadium of their team. Unfortunately, this type of data set does not seem readily available. Instead, a proxy for this distance traveled that was used in a 2014 analysis I came across was the distance from the city center of each team’s implied/representative city and its stadium. This data (which I have updated for stadiums or teams that have moved since that analysis) would give a rough idea how much (and what type of) game day travel is needed by an average fan in that city—whether they would have to use a lot of fuel drive a long distance (because their beloved San Francisco 49ers are actually 43 miles away in Santa Clara) or if they could walk or use more efficient public transportation to get to their local team (such as the New Orleans Saints who are positioned a mere half mile from city center and the typical pre-game restaurants and bars of their avid fans).

The following table summarizes the distance from city center to stadium for each of the 32 NFL teams, as well as a score normalized out of 100—where 0 represents the number of miles of the stadium that’s furthest from its implied city center and 100 representing a hypothetical team that would travel zero total miles:

Click to enlarge.

 

Putting together these four factors as described earlier the following final scores for each team’s efficiency at home (HES) and away (AES):

Click to enlarge.

Notes on methodology

Before playing out the 2017 NFL season using these Home and Away Efficiency Scores to determine the winner of all 256 regular season matchups, a couple of notes about the methodology used:

  • The average HES is 50.5 while the average AES is 37.6. This setup clearly favors the average home team in each matchup, due to the fact that the ‘city center to stadium distance’ scores are significantly higher than the ‘road miles traveled’ scores.’ This fact is seen as realistic, since in any given NFL game the home team is more likely to win (an average 3 point swing is given to the home team in an NFL game by sports odds makers).
  • There are some clear favorites heading into the season, as the HES of the several of the teams with LEED stadiums have a HES higher than the AES of every team, while a number of teams at the bottom of the AES ranking have scores so low they can’t beat the HES of any team.
  • Through it all, this is an inherently silly but fun exercise. We could instead just assign point values for all the sorts of factors an NFL team can control and declare the top 10 teams in those rankings—but isn’t it more fun to be a bit arbitrary and go through to declare a champion? Read on if you think so!

Regular season results

I used the NFL Playoff Predictor tool to plug in the results of all of the regular season matchups of the 2017 NFL schedule. This tool then uses the NFL’s rules to determine what teams make the playoffs and in what seeds.

You can see a saved version of what this played regular season would look like on a game-by-game process by following this link, but the final standings for the playoffs come out as follows:

Source

It is worth noting that after the first 7 weeks of the NFL season, the results based on this scoring system were already incorrect 52% of the time. But nonetheless, we have our twelve playoff teams in the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New England Patriots representing the AFC, while the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, and New York Giants represent the NFC.

By highlighting the playoff teams in the below table, we can find out what carried teams to the playoffs and what caused teams to miss the playoffs:

Click to enlarge.

A few things stick out:

  • The Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons were the only team that overcame a below average ACEEE score to make the playoffs, with the Titans seeming to rely on their extremely high city center to stadium distance score and the Falcons were carried by their new stadium being the only one certified as LEED Platinum while also being so close to city center.
  • Every team that has some sort of LEED certification on their stadium had enough of a leg up to make the playoffs. Further, no teams that had zero points from the lack of any significant energy initiative ended up making the playoffs.
  • Half of the playoff teams that scored below average on the road miles traveled, while one third of the playoff teams scored below average on city center to stadium distance (including the San Francisco 49ers who’s stadium is the furthest from city center, but luckily for them was certified as LEED Gold).

Playoffs

Playing through the first three rounds of the playoffs, we’ll continue to use the NFL Playoff Predictor tool and our HES and AES figures, as teams with a higher playoff seed still host the games.

Wildcard Round

Source

The Wildcard Round finds the Broncos, Steelers, Vikings, and Eagles moving on to meet the top four seeds from the regular season.

Divisional Round

Source

The Divisional Round finds all four home teams, bolstered by their LEED certified stadiums that aren’t too far from city center, advancing to the Conference Championships.

Conference Championship

Source

The pre-season favorites in the Baltimore Ravens and the Atlanta Falcons advance to the Super-Efficient Bowl. Both of these teams are carried by the energy efficiency and the central location of their stadiums, as the ACEEE score for both Baltimore and Atlanta are average while they also have significant road miles traveled as they are both on the East Coast and find themselves traveling to the Midwest and the West Coast.

Super-Efficient Bowl

Again, the two teams left standing at this point are the ones with the highest level of LEED certification on their stadiums, and they both come into this game with compelling story lines.

For the Atlanta Falcons, this marks a return to the Super Bowl after being victims of the largest comeback in Super Bowl history last year. However, last year they had not yet opened the Mercedes-Benz Stadium—the LEED Platinum certification of which propelled them back to the big game. Is this bump in sustainability enough to overcome the ghosts of last year’s devastating loss? Was the missing ingredient to last year’s team a stadium that set the bar as far as energy-efficient stadiums go?

For the Baltimore Ravens, the last time they were in the Super Bowl was five years ago—and this was a notable game in the energy world. It was this Super Bowl where the a power outage caused a half hour stoppage in play, the cause of which was later discovered to be a recently installed relay that was actually supposed to prevent just such a blackout. This lack of energy did not derail the Ravens, as they won the game with a goal line stand towards the end of the fourth quarter. Perhaps this caused a realization that they could win it all even without energy pumping into the stadium, as it was the following season that M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Ravens, earned LEED Gold certification. But that LEED Gold Certification is no longer the gold standard in the NFL, with their opponents only this year achieving LEED Platinum.

How will this play out?!

For the Super-Efficient Bowl, since neither team is playing at its home stadium, we should determine an efficiency score without the home or away components. That means the score of the Super-Efficient Bowl will be determined by the average of ACEEE City Score and LEED Points awarded. Using that as a basis we find a champion and final score to the inaugural Super-Efficient Bowl to be….

Source

 

 

The Atlanta Falcons have received redemption and won the Super-Efficient Bowl! Despite Baltimore jumping out to an early lead with a higher ACEEE City Energy Efficiency score, but it wasn’t enough to hold back Atlanta with their state-of-the-art LEED Platinum stadium. Let the confetti rain down (but make sure it’s made of recycled paper)!

Conclusion

Because of the year-to-year volatility of several of the metrics used to determine the energy-efficient winners, anyone could come out of the pack to take the title of Super-Efficient Bowl Champion next year. As shown by Atlanta and Baltimore’s success in this inaugural season, though, the key is to get a LEED certified stadium and to locate it as close as possible to the center of your city. The number of LEED stadiums has grown to account for almost 20% of stadiums in the NFL, and that’s after the first one was certified only six years ago. More and more teams seem to be finding the value of a LEED stadium, and now maybe the Super-Efficient Bowl will prompt more to join the trend.

And best of luck to the Dallas Cowboys, who finished last in the league. Worry not, they’ll be awarded the first draft pick in next year’s draft—which maybe they can spend on the top prospect in energy-efficiency!

Sources and additional reading

Can Stadium Sports Really Be Green? Mother Jones

Chiefs Focus on Solar Energy Solution: Chiefs

Cleveland Browns Begin Initiative to Convert Food Waste Into Energy: Waste Today

Does Cowboys Stadium Use More Energy on Gameday Than Liberia? Sports Grid

Eagles & Ravens Receive LEED Certification Just in Time for Greenbuild Conference: Green Sports Alliance

Going Long and Going Green: How the NFL is Embracing Sustainability: Georgetown

Guide to LEED Certification: United States Green Building Council

How AEG Is Bringing Energy Storage To LA’s StubHub Center With Tesla Powerpacks: SportTechie

LEDs Take Over Tampa Bay’s NFL Stadium: Facilitiesnet

LEED Certified Green Building: Soldier Field

LG Electronics and Nissan Stadium Win Big in LED Lighting Overhaul: PR Newswire

Levi’s Stadium Achieves LEED Gold Certification for Operations and Maintenance of an Existing Building: Levi’s Stadium

Los Angeles Coliseum “Modernizes” With Zero Waste: Green Sports Alliance

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Falcons’ new home, to sport state-of-the-art sustainability: USA Today

NFL Stadiums Attempt to Lower Energy Costs: 24 of the Most Energy Efficient Stadiums in the League: Electric Choice

Patriots Become 1st NFL Franchise to Buy a Team Plane: Bleacher Report

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Truths About Traveling in the NFL: Bleacher Report

Playoff Predictors

Seahawks To Travel Sixth-Most Road Miles in NFL In 2017: Seahawks

Some NFL Teams Are Going Green: Wall Street Journal

Super Bowl LII E-Waste Recycling Rally: MN Superbowl

Team travel directors preparing as if there will be a 2011 season: NFL

The 2017 City Energy Efficiency Scorecard: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

“Timing is everything”: Behind the scenes of an NFL team’s travel day: CBS News

U.S. Bank Stadium goes for the green: Finance & Commerce

Which NFL Stadiums Are The Most Convenient To Drive To: Deadspin

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

What is the most climate friendly way to light your Jack-O’-Lantern?

The truest sign to me that Autumn has arrived isn’t the changing of the leaves, the advent of sweater weather, or even the pumpkin spice lattes everywhere you look. The real sign of the Fall season in my life is when the seasonal sections of Target fills up with Halloween costumes, decorations, candy, and trinkets. On my recent trip to this holiday mecca, I was looking at the decorations– specifically the little lights that are meant to go into jack-o’-lanterns instead of candles– and realized the sustainability factor for these decorations has not become nearly as pervasive as it has for Christmas lights (which now commonly advertise how efficient they are on the front of the package). After a bit of research, it appeared that this topic had not garnered any real investigations. Being ever the energy-conscious consumer, I could not let that stand!

What follows is some ‘back of the envelope’ type number crunching to figure out the most efficient and green option for illuminating your carved pumpkins. Very specific data is not really available, so there are certainly some liberties taken. However just for the sake of finding ballpark answers, I’ll hope this slight lack of statistical rigor is found acceptable. But if the Senate and Natural Resources Committee is looking to tackle the issue, then this will be a good starting point.



Background

One of the main differences between Christmas lights and Halloween pumpkin lights that changes how the market approaches them is surely that Christmas lights get plugged into an outlet. Families with large Christmas light displays will see a noticeable bump in their monthly power bill, making the efficiency of these lights more present in the forefront of their minds. However, jack-o’-lanterns are instead lit up with either candles or lights that use portable, disposable batteries. Not only does this fact (and the relative smallness of pumpkin lights compared with full house Christmas lights) reduce the necessity of efficiency to most people, but it also makes efficiency calculations more difficult to come by. The power of the lights come either from the candle itself or from portable batteries, the comparison becomes fairly difficult.
But wait!
The choice of what to light your pumpkin up with is tied pretty strongly with a debate that arises every Earth Hour (an event organized where everyone turns off their lights for one full hour to symbolically support climate change and energy reduction efforts)– and that debate is whether candles, as a form of fossil fuels, actually end up emitting more carbon dioxide (CO2) than the electricity to power light bulbs do. Without jumping too deep into that issue, the point is that while candles do not require any electricity, they do release CO2 into the atmosphere (depending on the specific type of candle).
That being the case, it seems that comparing the CO2 emissions tied with various jack-o’-lantern lighting sources might be the easiest and most digestible exercise in determining the ‘greenest’ pumpkin lighting method.

Jack-O-‘Lantern Lighting Options

Real candles

  • Traditionally, jack-o’-lanterns were lit up exclusively by candles. The idea of candles in jack-o’-lanterns is so ingrained in people’s minds that the artificial lights often include a ‘flicker’ to mimic the actual look of candles. Because of this, the baseline lighting source is the traditional and widely-available paraffin candle. These candles are found at virtually any store that sells candles, and are created from a by-product of the refining of crude oil (hence their CO2 emissions).

  • As people became more environment- and health-conscious, alternative types of candles that did not emit the pollutants of traditional paraffin candles became more popular. So a second alternative are more the more eco-friendly soy or beeswax candles.

Artificial lights- for these I’ll find a sample of flameless artificial lights that are readily available on Amazon.com and cover a variety of options for the batteries that power them

Calculations

Again I just want to stress that what’s about to take place are rough calculations that should not be taken as 100% accurate, but rather to gain a general idea of the scale of CO2 emissions for each of these pumpkin lighting sources (wow it’s hard to try and sound scientific and serious while typing that phrase…). With that said, here’s a look at the back of the envelope on which these calculations were done:
Real Candles
For paraffin candles, considered the standard and classic candle with which to light up a jack-o’-lantern, a number of sources cite a figure of about 10 grams of CO2 released per hour of candle burn, so that is the number we will go with. For these candles, we’ll also ignore the CO2 emissions associated with the production and transportation of the candles because 1) paraffin is a by-product of various petroleum refining processes, meaning if not used then the material would go into the waste stream, 2) the low cost of the product suggests that the energy used to produce and transport them (called embodied energy) will be relatively low compared with the tangible CO2 released in burning, and 3) data for such questions is not readily available.
 
Paraffin candle CO2 emissions: 10 grams of CO2 per hour of candle burn
On the other hand, beeswax or soy candles (the touted green alternative) are often considered carbon-neutral. This assumption is made despite the fact that they do also release CO2 when they are burned, as the released CO2 was recently absorbed by plants in the atmosphere (which was transferred by a bee to the beeswax used in those candles, or was still in the soy used for soy candles). In these instances, common practice is to not count such CO2 emissions, as they used CO2 that was in the atmosphere and will cyclically release it back, as opposed to fossil fuels (such as those in paraffin) that are releasing CO2 that had long been stored in oil reserves underground. We’ll again ignore the CO2 emissions associated with the production and transportation of the candles because 1) beeswax and soy plants are both renewable sources for material, 2) the low cost of the products suggests the embodied energy, and thus associated emissions, are relatively low (especially if these candles are bought locally, as they are commonly found at farmer’s markets and the like), and 3) we don’t have such data available.
 
Beeswax/soy candle CO2 emissions: 0 grams of CO2 per hour of candle burn
Artificial Lights
Each of the three artificial light options found, their equivalent CO2 emitted per hour of use will be calculated based on the batteries required to run them. Making the comparison this way will require a number of generous assumptions (back of the envelope here, don’t forget!):
  • The associated CO2 we’ll look at is only coming from the batteries used to power the light, not the construction or transportation of the light itself. Again, the data to find the CO2 associated with producing/transporting the light is not easy to find– but moreso, we’ll assume that the lights will be used year after year, thus minimizing how much CO2 per hour would end up being.
  • The California government sponsored a study on the emissions associated with producing alkaline batteries, one of the conclusions of which was that the CO2-equivalent produced for primary batteries was about 9 kilograms (kg) per kg of battery produced. This figure assumes that batteries are single use (either thrown in the trash or recycled after use) and accounts for the energy needed to store power in the batteries that will eventually add a sparkle to the eye of your jack-o’-lantern. We’ll use this number, combined with the weight of the batteries for the lights and the lifetime of that battery, to find the CO2 per hour of use associated with the lights.
  • Assumptions will be made on how long the batteries will last in these lights, using either the product’s page or a best guess based on battery capacity and typical drain.
  • Additionally, we’re assuming the use of the typical disposable batteries– any rechargeable batteries would throw off the calculation, but this analysis won’t go there.

Combine these artificial lights with the real candle options, and the final values for the five options in terms of associated CO2 released per hour of jack-o’-lantern operation is as follows:

Or in graphical form:Click to enlarge.

Very obviously, the environmentally friendly soy or beeswax candles that account for no CO2 release in their production or burning are going to come out on top here. But what might surprise you is that the options that use batteries come out significantly ahead of the typical paraffin candle. While the industrial production of the batteries to power the artificial lights (and even if you add in a fudge factor to account for the production of the artificial light itself) seems like it would obviously be energy-intensive and account for greenhouse gases, the less obvious fact of paraffin candles outdoing that by direct emissions is not as clear until you look into the numbers specifically.

Conclusion

In the end, this might come across as a silly exercise– and maybe it is, just in the name of holiday fun. Releasing 10 grams per hour with paraffin candles compared with the significant reductions possible with the other options might seem like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things– in a world where a single cow can release up to 200 grams of methane (a greenhouse gas that contributes more strongly to climate change per gram of it released than CO2) through flatulence and belches, why even question the CO2 released due to halloween decorations?
I would agree that’s a fair point, but let’s keep the calculations going really quickly. In the United States, there are about 73 million children under the age of 18. Let’s just say that half of those kids have a jack-o’-lantern (some families might not celebrate Halloween with jack-o’-lanterns, some families might not see the need for one for each child, but on the other hand many adults such as myself might still find joy in carving and lighting up pumpkins– so 50% will be our randomly chosen number. Back of the envelope!). And let’s say that for the two weeks leading up to Halloween, those jack-o’-lanterns are lit up for 3 hours per night. All of a sudden, we’re dealing with 1,533 million total hours of jack-o’-lanterns being burnt. If all of those jack-o’-lanterns are releasing 10 grams of CO2 per hour with paraffin candles, all of a sudden that’s 15,330 metric tons of CO2– or the equivalent of the annual CO2 released in a year by over 3,000 cars.
The point of all of this to show how much of a difference small changes can make. Are you an environmental criminal for lighting your pumpkin up with a paraffin candle? Certainly not. But you can be an environmental warrior by noting all these small choices that surround you (during the holidays and in your everyday life). And if you want to add some more energy-efficient related fun to your jack-o’-lanterns, check out these stencils from the Department of Energy!

Sources and additional reading

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.  

President Obama’s Energy and Environmental Legacy

In the Fall 2016 issue of The Current, the quarterly online magazine from the Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment (WCEE), I wrote a retrospective on now-former President Obama’s energy and environmental legacy as compared with his campaign promises. The main conclusion of that article was that Obama was leaving office with mixed results when it came to delivering on his stated goals in the energy and environmental spheres, and that the long-term legacy of those achievements would rest on the action or inaction of his yet-to-be-determined successor. With about a year having passed since publication of that article, and almost eight months for President Trump to have set the course for his energy and environmental agenda, I thought it would be interested to see how some of the initial conclusions have held up and how the new administration has followed up on those specific issues.



A quick note that this article will be slightly more politically based than I intend to take typically in this outlet. The goal of this blog will be to provide more straightforward information and analysis based in data, rather than take a side on any specific partisan debate. I want to give you the information and tools, and you can interpret it however you choose. However because this deals with an article that was already published, I thought it might be worth checking into the facts again after a year.

The makeup of the national energy supply

Obama campaign promise: Clean coal and nuclear power will find a place to stay

Conclusion in initial article: Mixed results— Clean coal remains elusive; nuclear was showing promise under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan (CPP), which ended up getting stalled until courts could review

Update: Progress has been further stalled— Pushing of clean coal to revitalize the coal industry has long been a part of President Trump’s energy plan. However there has not been appreciable increases in the implementation of clean coal—and the construction of a first-of-its-kind clean coal power plant in Mississippi was indefinitely suspended after falling far behind schedule and beyond budget.

When it comes to the CPP, the Trump administration has moved forward on its campaign promise to roll it back. In March, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt informed states that they are not obligated to meet the deadlines set by the CPP while was still stalled in the judicial system.

The overall result is that the push to increase the portion of the nation’s energy supply made up by clean coal and nuclear power has stalled. The energy-related carbon dioxide intensity of coal has remained steady for years, indicating the proportion of ‘clean coal’ to total coal has not made significant gains. Similarly the below graph shows that the total power generation from nuclear, as well as the percentage of overall American energy generation attributed to nuclear, has remained steady for the last decade.

Based on Short-Term Energy Outlook data from Energy Information Administration (EIA) as of September 6, 2017—annual data for 2017 and 2018 are projections.

Based on Short-Term Energy Outlook data from Energy Information Administration (EIA) as of September 6, 2017—annual data for 2017 and 2018 are projections.

Clean tech investment and job growth

Obama campaign promise: Invest $150 billion over 10 years to deploy clean technologies and create millions of new jobs

Conclusion in initial article: Partially successful— the investment was exceeded by 2014, but the number of jobs created in the space fell well short of millions

Update: Inconclusive—For the entirety of Obama’s second term and since the Trump administration has taken office, the U.S. economy has consistently added jobs every month. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stopped providing data on “green jobs” in 2013. In absence of this monthly data, the best source to track jobs in the clean tech space is the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) U.S. Energy and Employment Report, issued annually in January. As such, it is impossible to know if the new jobs added to the economy are in the clean technologies, though some industry and government leaders have expressed concern that the Trump decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement will negatively impact the prospects for clean tech growth and employment.

Renewable electricity

Obama campaign promise: Increase percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources to 10% by 2012 and 25% by 2025

Conclusion in initial article: Mostly successful— reached 12% by 2012 but plateaued at about 13% through 2015

Update: Progress being made—While the Trump Administration has not focused on policies to specifically encourage renewable energy policies, market forces continue to encourage the penetration of renewable electricity generation. Annual data showed renewable energy generation reaching 15% in 2016 with EIA forecasting that to increase to 17% in 2017 and 16% in 2018.

Based on Short-Term Energy Outlook data from Energy Information Administration (EIA) as of September 6, 2017—annual data for 2017 and 2018 are projections.

 

Industrial energy efficiency

Obama campaign promise: Promote energy efficiency with industrial manufacturers

Conclusion in initial article: Awaiting results— Obama issued an executive order in 2010 that would achieve $100 billion in energy savings, but the results were to be measured over the following 10 years

Update: Still waiting—Obviously a one year update won’t change the conclusion that these results were still be measured over 10 years, which have not yet passed, so we’ll still await the outcome of this one. While no actions have been taken by President Trump to undue the executive order fulfilling Obama’s campaign promise focusing on national energy efficiency, it is noteworthy that President Trump’s approach to national energy issues has instead been to roll back regulations seen as impeding the development of U.S. energy resources (focusing on oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy).

Government support of oil companies

Obama campaign promise: Eliminate tax breaks to big oil companies

Conclusion in initial article: No progress— Obama’s attempt to eliminate oil tax breaks were rejected by Congress for all of Obama’s proposed budgets

Update: No expected progress– President Trump’s priorities are notably different than Obama’s were, so the status quo of the tax breaks for oil companies are wholly expected to persist, as doing otherwise would not be seen as progress by Trump. On the contrary, there has been speculation of Trump expanding government aid to prop up the coal industry as well. These actions would keep with a worldwide trend according to a recent report by the International Monetary Fund that concluded fossil fuel subsidies, at $5.5 trillion annually, account for 6.5% of the global GDP.

Carbon emissions

Obama campaign promise: Make significant progress to reduce the national carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions

Conclusion in initial article: Jury still out— CPP would reduce CO2 emissions from power plants for the first time, but the Supreme Court placed a hold on the implementation

Update: As noted earlier, one of Obama’s signature energy accomplishments in the CPP is on life support after the Trump administration signaled to states that they would not be held to the emission requirements. However, U.S. CO2 emissions might be another area where the market forces are already in play to affect the outcome regardless of executive action or inaction. The below two graphs from EIA show a forecast continued drop in CO2 emissions per capita and a drastic drop in total CO2 emissions from a peak in 2019 to a minimum in 2033 (before again increasing due to growing population levels). This drop in CO2 emissions in the absence of federal policy comes because of the continuously falling price of less carbon intensive fuels such as natural gas, nuclear, and renewable energy sources compared with coal and petroleum, in addition to individual states and companies pledging to reduce emissions regardless of whether or not the CPP becomes law.

EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook
EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook

Conclusion

Obama was elected after campaigning on addressing climate change and promising federal action to reduce impacts of the energy sector. Upon his imminent departure from office, giving him a grade on fulfilling his campaign promises proved difficult due to some of the long-term nature of potential results as well as the impact his successor could potentially have on furthering or rolling back parts of his agenda. With the benefit of another year to reflect upon, the conclusion of Obama’s legacy as being overall mixed seems even more entrenched due to the contrasting views held by President Trump. While the dominoes of some of his actions (such as federal investment in clean tech and industrial energy efficiency) are still falling, some of his more ambitious attempts (namely the Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement) have been thwarted by the Trump administration.

If you’re interested in watching the energy makeup of the United States, the relative carbon emissions, or the overall total energy used across the nation, stay tuned for a primer I’m planning on the EIA’s vast public datasets to show you how you can find that raw data yourself.

 

 

 

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.