Energy savings of a holiday shutdown
By Kristina Ross
As corporate culture develops to optimize workplace innovation and productivity, one topic that comes up repeatedly is whether it's better to close the office during the holiday season. Christmas through New Year's Day is an eight-day stretch following a three-week frenzy for retail companies, while corporate businesses have pushed to meet their quarterly and annual goals.
In the days following Christmas, retailers continue to enjoy high sales thanks to vacationers, while corporate offices tend of have a lull. While it's safe to assume an eight-day paid vacation would be welcomed by employees, it may not make sense for a number of businesses. But from an environmental standpoint, how much energy could be saved if a majority of businesses closed for the holidays?
Currently, the United States is the only advanced economy in the world to not legally guarantee paid vacation time. In contrast, Spain and Germany guarantee 34 days of paid leave (holidays and vacations) per year. Despite no legal requirement, about 77 percent of U.S. private sector companies offer paid vacation time, which many employees take during this holiday season.
There are many factors to consider for a holiday shutdown, as every industry and company is affected differently by the holiday season. In order to make any estimates over how much energy would be saved by a holiday shutdown, we need to make several assumptions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 121 million Americans are employed either part or full time. This number may be higher, as this data is from 2008, the peak of the financial crisis. With this data in mind, let's assume companies open between Christmas and New Year's with less than their usual number of employees, with many employees using some vacation time during this eight-day stretch.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2012 commercial businesses used 17.5 trillion BTUs of energy, or 48 billion BTUs per day. While every energy source emits different amounts of greenhouse gasses (think coal vs. solar), if we assume it averages out to the equivalent emissions of natural gas at 117 pounds of carbon dioxide per million BTU, U.S. commercial businesses combine to emit about 5.6 million pounds of carbon dioxide per day.
Even if we assume 25 percent of these businesses can't close during this time period (grocery stores, pharmacies, etc.), the country could prevent the emissions of about 30 million pounds of carbon dioxide during this shutdown. These emissions from lighting, heating and cooling buildings and powering appliances and equipment don't even factor in the emissions that could be saved by employees not having to commute to work, especially considering that 76 percent of employees drive alone to their jobs and the average round-trip commute totals 50 minutes.
Read more about energy efficiency in office buildings:
It's clear that this holiday vacation has a favorable environmental output, even when factoring in the additional carbon emissions associated with vacationing. If closing a business is not a possibility, consider giving essential employees the opportunity to work remotely. This may be enough to keep the business running smoothly without opening the entire office.
Closing an office for a holiday vacation may hurt business during the time of the office closure, but could provide financial value over the rest of the year. Many studies have shown that increased vacation time can improve workplace productivity, which depending on the industry may outweigh the value gained during the holiday season. Contrary to what we saw with the government shutdown, the energy savings of a holiday shutdown may have some economic value.
Kristina Ross currently works as the webmaster and sustainability blogger at SaveOnEnergy.com. Her work concentrates on a healthier relationship between the environment and the people that live in it. She promotes the reduction of environmental impact through cleaner means of energy production and consumption.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere