Inconsistent Data Clouds Climate Change Reporting

The state of Ohio allows utilities to take credit for energy efficiency initiatives undertaken by their industrial customers, even when the utility is not involved.
As a result, when data crunchers from Ceres set out to compare the energy-efficiency performance of utilities across the U.S., they subtracted from the numbers reported by Ohio's FirstEnergy Corp to make a fair comparison with other utilities, said Dan Bakal, the director of electric power for Ceres. A non-profit that seeks to motivate businesses and investors on clean technology, Ceres included this line in its recent benchmarking report on energy efficiency and renewables:
"Discrepancies between utility benchmarking performance and actual on-the-ground actions highlight shortcomings with data quality and benchmarking efforts. For example, at least one company reported here has taken public credit for energy savings by industrial customers when the utility was not involved in the efficiency projects."
"We're not claiming any shenanigans," Bakal told me in an email, "but there is some variability in how companies report energy efficiency information."
A number of entities like Ceres have emerged to track the progress companies are making toward carbon neutrality and sustainability, and they encounter difficulties because data is not standardized.
Recently, Energy Points, a company that produces energy analytics software, set out to rank companies using data from the England-based Climate Disclosure Project, which invites companies to report on their environmental impact. Energy Points also ran into difficulty because of variances of reporting within these voluntary disclosures.
Some companies report their electricity use, others electricity plus fuels, and still others, electricity, fuels and water usage.
"As you can see the rankings fluctuate based on what they report," said Asena Woodward, the head of marketing for Energy Points. "The CDP and other sustainability indices do not require that companies disclose all their information. It creates a common scenario where a company that doesn’t report their fuels and/or water use will rank better than a company that reported all three. Basically, without the same data being reported across the board the rankings are meaningless and, moreover, there is a disincentive for companies to fully disclose their data."
The Environmental Protection Agency may have an opportunity in its Clean Power Plan to standardize data reported by utilities, but the EPA has even had trouble comparing its own data. When the EPA's Inspector General audited the EPA's climate change performance, it noticed that mileage for EPA fleet vehicles is reported quarterly, but when private vehicles are used, mileage is reported annually.
"Specifically, because mileage data for privately owned vehicle usage are available on an annual basis only, the contractor did not have corresponding quarterly data for privately owned vehicles," the inspector general reported. "The contractor had to use substitute privately owned vehicle data to calculate total EPA business travel GHG emissions for the second quarter of FY 2011 through the first quarter of FY 2012. The EPA deferred to the contractor to explain the substitute data. However, the contractor’s response did not explain how the substitute data was developed."
If the numbers were only consistent, the numbers crunchers say, measurements and rankings could encourage sustainability initiatives.
"Ideally sustainability reporting would fully reflect energy consumption, environmental impact, and resource scarcity. And it would be information that organizations can use to make strategic business decisions," Woodward said. "This, by the way, would give them more incentive to report."
Read More:

Tip Jar: If you found value on this page, please consider tipping the author.