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Top Emissions Data Management Challenges Facing Utilities

The power sector is on the verge of its most dramatic transformation in decades. By 2035, the entire industry must achieve net zero in order to meet the targets set by the Biden administration. And while concerns about new emissions regulations are on the rise, forward-looking utilities know there's a bigger prize at stake: investor confidence.

Company strategy for the energy transition is fundamental to assessing creditworthiness, reports Moody's. Investors see carbon-intensive operations as a business risk and, by extension, a threat to their returns. 

In response, many investor-owned utilities have adopted their own ESG initiatives and net zero targets. Now, the pressure is on to prove they're making good on their promises.

These forces are driving increased data volume and complexity, which makes it harder for utilities to manage, maintain, and use emissions data. The need to report on these initiatives is also increasing the demand for improved access to accurate, timely data.

Data collection

For many utilities, data management challenges start with the systems they're using to collect information. For example, most utilities have continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMs). These systems collect data from various sources, which then gets dumped into a database that is isolated from other systems.

But CEMS alone doesn't provide enough information to analyze performance and draw conclusions. Holistic reporting requires rich, contextual data derived from a number of different sources and systems. 

A centralized environmental data management software system will enable organizations to collect emissions data at the source and combine it with information from other systems, adding value to the raw data in order to derive insights and make better strategic decisions. 

Data volume

The sheer size of the data also poses a significant challenge. Consider the variety of sources for emissions data at a single plant. Monitoring these sources 24/7 generates thousands of unique data points that must eventually be cleaned, sorted, formatted, and organized for use. 

Now, multiply that across your entire operations and it becomes even more difficult to keep emissions data clean, complete, and current. Processing all of this data can take up to 80% of the time, leaving little time to actually use the information. 

A modern, cloud-based system automates these tasks, allowing environment engineers to process large volumes of data at the source and giving them time back for analysis. 

Data visibility

Data visibility is a big blind spot for the power sector. Issues with data visibility can impact compliance performance and delay responses to nonconformity, resulting in significant fines and penalties. Furthermore, poor data visibility can prevent utilities from meeting new regulatory and voluntary requirements.

In fact, the utility industry has reached a tipping point where a lack of data visibility is simply unacceptable. As utilities embark on new initiatives, such as smart grid technology and electric vehicle charging, this will only become a more pressing problem.

Fortunately, environmental data management software offers built-in features like dashboards that allow managers to see the most important data at a glance. By incorporating these tools into your organization, you can have confidence that you’re making decisions based on the most accurate and up-to-date information. And, should any issues arise, you’ll be able to see them right away so you can act immediately.  

Stakeholder trust

With the rise of ESG reporting, transparency is a hot topic. However, utilities should consider that investors and customers may not implicitly trust the information they're offered. In fact, 8 out of 10 people don't believe brand sustainability claims.

They have good reason to be wary, according to the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI):

"EPI’s updated analysis reveals how several utilities have used accounting tricks to keep emissions off their books, and notes how some utilities with net-zero carbon commitments continue to allow some of their operating subsidiaries to ignore the parent companies’ decarbonization goal entirely."

So, what's the solution? Complete and accurate emissions data, courtesy of a modern environmental data management system, gives investors and customers confidence in their choices in a way that guesstimates and generalizations simply can't. 

A modern approach to emissions data management

Pressure from investors and regulators, coupled with economic conditions that favor clean energy, is forcing utilities to rethink traditional business models.  

Implementing new technologies, adopting new regulations, and meeting new investor and customers demands won't be easy, but one thing is certain. A modern approach to emissions data management will be necessary if utilities are to overcome these challenges and remain competitive. 

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