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Emissions Calculator for Modern Grid Investments

PNNL and utilities partner to develop and test new Emissions Quantification Tool

July 2016
Emissions Calculator for Modern Grid Investments
Users can access the Emissions Quantification Tool, free of charge at SMARTGRID.GOV.

Integrating "smart grid" technologies can reduce greenhouse gases and other emissions resulting from power production and usage. A new tool developed by researchers at PNNL makes estimating those emissions impacts easy. The free, web-based tool enables utilities and industry to evaluate not only the environmental impacts of adopting smart grid technologies, but can give them the operational data they may need to justify the investment.

Once a calculation is complete, the tool produces a detailed report with pre- and post-technology adoption comparisons, including:

  • resulting changes to carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions
  • savings that can be achieved by adjusting the time of day that smart devices pull electricity from the grid
  • variables, such as how much energy storage would be needed to provide a certain operational benefit and what the resulting increase or decrease in emissions would be.
  • "Users can quickly and easily screen different scenarios by varying the type of smart grid technology and other variables to best characterize their specific set of circumstances and location," said Karen Studarus, a power systems engineer at PNNL and project lead. "The modules we've assembled are being used right now to explore the impacts of proposed projects and understand the sometimes counterintuitive tradeoffs."

    The emissions quantification tool builds on previous PNNL research on emissions impacts from smart grid technology integration. This was followed by additional development through support from DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.

    Emissions Impacts Can Vary

    Sometimes the results are counterintuitive. For example, coordinating electric vehicle charging in the Northeast would reduce sulfur dioxide—an indirect greenhouse gas—emissions by about 2.5 percent. But in California, the exact same level of coordinated charging actually found an estimated increase of 1.5 percent due to the sources of energy production being used in California during the charging timeframe.

    Calculations are based on well-established data sources, including EPA's AVERT, or Avoided Emissions and Generation Tool, which maps hourly emissions benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy policies and programs; solar energy data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory; and demand response models from the Brattle Group.

    "The tool is designed to be as transparent as possible in terms of the underlying data and algorithms so users can clearly understand how outcomes from scenarios were calculated," Studarus added.

    Progress on the Prototype

    Demonstrated by Studarus at the National Summit on Smart Grid and Climate Change in October 2015, researchers are now working to expand the tool with additional sophistication, functionality, and versatility. Spurred on by affirmation and feedback from an external steering committee, DOE invested $1 million in 2016 to increase transparency in the numbers.

    "This is really uncharted territory. Nobody's done this before, and it's a very diverse and skeptical community when it comes to understanding the benefits and impacts of smart grid technologies," explained Studarus. "By adding uncertainty analyses — or error bars— they can see more clearly how much faith they should be putting into the numbers."

    Users can access latest version of the Emissions Quantification Tool, free of charge, at For more information, check out the PNNL Press Release.

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