Research highlight: Quantifying the CO2 emissions of electricity in real time

Decarbonising the European economy is a long-term goal in which the residential sector will play a significant role. Smart buildings for energy management are one means of decarbonisation, by reducing energy consumption and related emissions. In efforts to reduce the dependence of the European economy on fossil energy, the European Union (EU) has established an energy roadmap to decarbonise the energy system by 2050. To achieve the decarbonisation goal, it is believed that smart buildings will be a vital tool for reducing and shifting energy consumption, thus reducing energy generation and use and related emissions. Emissions from electricity consumption is usually the product of the consumption and a fixed emission factor. In Finland, this emission factor was estimated to 287.81 g/kWh in 2016. But does it mean that the electricity emission factor is fixed in reality? Are the emissions dependent on the time we consuming electricity? Could we control and manage our electricity better depending on when the electricity is more polluting.

Dynamic emission factors

To better understand this phenomenon, we have developed a method that is able to detail the environmental emissions from the electricity production by aggregating hourly emission factors depending on the technology used. Every powerplant use different types of fuel and their usage varies depending on the price of resources (oil, coal, wood, biomass, gas etc…) and the season. For this reason, we considered a system that can, in real time, assess the environmental emissions from the electricity mix by considering the primary energy mix of the electricity in Finland. Therefore, we can see times of the day where the emissions from electricity consumption is 85% lower than the average emission factor, while polluted peaks may increase by over 100% the same emission factor.

Integrating Home Energy Management System

The integration of Home Energy Management System, or more commonly called smart building, aim at decreasing the expensive (economically and environmentally) peak, increase energy efficiency, and ultimately decrease the bill of households. To this end, a myriad of sensors and IT processing technology is required to monitor and control the building. Although technology does affect the consumption load profile in a good way, it also increases the electricity consumption resulting in an increase on the overall environmental impact of households. Household size is critical to benefit from smart technologies but most importantly, the energy efficiency of sensing devices must drastically increase to become beneficial as such.

Project: Smart energy networks 2050: Modelling of energy and information fluxes, impact of user response on decarbonisation



The paper “Life cycle impact assessment of home energy management systems (HEMS) using dynamic emissions factors for electricity in Finland” by Jean-Nicolas Louis and Eva Pongrácz has been published in Environmental impact assessment review.

Last updated: 8.10.2017