Like many people, I start each morning by boiling water in my electric tea kettle. Probably unlike most people, I once calculated how much energy I was consuming along with my tea, just for fun.
I figured my electric kettle probably draws about 1,500W of power. I filled it with a liter of water, pressed “go,” and watched the clock. It took 4 minutes and 20 seconds, or .072 of an hour. Consuming 1500W for 0.72 of an hour works out to 108Wh. (Yeah, Google could’ve told me it takes about 100Wh to bring a liter of room temperature water to a boil, but it’s more satisfying to do the experiment).
Next question: how much carbon emission was my water responsible for? For that, I need to know the carbon intensity of the energy I just consumed, and that turns out to be a difficult question to answer.
On the power grid, the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere for each kilowatt hour generated depends on the mix of power plants providing the energy. A coal plant emits a lot of carbon per kWh. Nuclear, wind, solar, hydro and renewables emit zero. Natural gas is somewhere in between. This mix is constantly changing, as the wind blows stronger, clouds cover a solar farm, a plant goes offline, or a dam opens the gates.
But it’s worse than that. Where you are on the grid matters too. People have different carbon intensities if they happen to be electrically near a solar farm when the sun is out vs. a coal plant vs. a wind farm while the wind is blowing. These people are customers of the same utility, the same grid, at the same time—but they have different and ever-changing carbon emissions per kWh consumed.
In other words—each of us can easily find out how much energy we’ve used today, but almost nobody can answer the question, “How much carbon was emitted today as a result?”
The answer to that second question matters. In the decades it will take to transition to a zero carbon economy, we need to make the best use of the resources we have to lower the carbon intensity of our world. Knowing the true carbon footprint of the energy you are consuming right now, right here allows for different decisions to be made. This isn’t about changing your morning tea ritual, but about allowing everyone, including companies and big consumers of energy, to shift their consumption to low carbon times throughout the day. With this realtime data, organizations can reduce their carbon footprint long before more carbon-free power plants come online.
That’s why Spero Ventures recently co-led an investment in Singularity. Dr. Wenbo Shi, the CEO of Singularity, is one of the foremost experts in tracking and optimizing carbon flows through power grids. He and his team have developed the most accurate tools to transparently track carbon through the grid network, and APIs to enable utilities and energy consumers to take action to reduce their carbon emissions. We are excited to help build this type of intelligence and see the different products and uses that evolve from their customers, along with the amount of carbon that will never be emitted because of their efforts.
In case you were still wondering about my carbon intensity at teatime, living in California the sun is generally shining on my solar array by the time I make coffee, so for me, it happens to be zero. But when I charge my car, that energy comes from the grid and is a totally different matter. To figure that out accurately, I’ll need Singularity.
To learn more about Singularity, visit them at Singularity.Energy.
Cover photo courtesy of M. Onder.