Monday, November 25, 2019

Sustainability at Portland General Electric ‘Matures’ with Help from EPRI Model

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Utility Innovation: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Strategy

During EPRI-facilitated workshops, Portland General Electric (PGE) identified key opportunities to make progress on sustainability goals, leading the utility to set a scientifically backed greenhouse gas reduction goal. “Now that we’ve set the goal, we’re figuring out how to implement it not just for the power we supply our customers, but also for other areas of our business,” said PGE Sustainability Manager Caitlin Horsley. “This work is pushing us to get our ducks in a row so we can look at our full greenhouse gas picture as a company and as an Oregon economy.”

Informed by work with an EPRI sustainability model, Portland General Electric (PGE) solidified its greenhouse gas emissions strategy and set one of the electricity sector’s most ambitious emissions goals: an 80% reduction by 2050.

First developed in 2011, EPRI’s Electric Power Sustainability Maturity Model is designed to help power companies assess sustainability maturity—progress toward sustainability goals—and use insights from the analysis to facilitate strategic planning and investment decisions. Users can analyze energy affordability, air emissions (such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, mercury, and particulates), greenhouse gas emissions, energy reliability, and water availability—with respect to strategy, implementation, measurement of results, and shared value. The model’s dashboards summarize current and aspirational maturity scores for these five “domains.”

During two EPRI-facilitated workshops in 2017, 15 PGE executives and managers from various disciplines applied the model to assess the greenhouse gas emissions and energy affordability domains. Inputs from the discussion were plugged into the model to yield maturity scores. The final report outlined opportunities to enhance maturity over the next 3–5 years.

According to EPRI Senior Project Manager Morgan Scott, the model is more qualitative than quantitative.

“It’s a capability model. Rather than determining a company’s maturity based on a quantitative performance, it evaluates how a company is set up to enhance performance,” she said. “For example, with greenhouse gas emissions, it’s not ‘What were your emissions last year?’ It’s: ‘Are you measuring your performance on greenhouse gas emissions? Is the metric publicly disclosed? Have you set a goal?’”

According to PGE Sustainability Manager Caitlin Horsley, EPRI served a vital role as a trusted third party to inform PGE about the steps needed to make progress on greenhouse gas emissions issues.

“One of the things that came out of our workshop was a specific greenhouse gas emissions strategy distinct from our integrated resource plan,” said Horsley. “The maturity model recommended that we develop a greenhouse gas cost curve identifying our short-term opportunities and associated financial costs. We decided to conduct a more comprehensive ‘Deep Decarbonization Study’ that included separate cost curves for PGE and the Oregon economy in our service territory. Based on that study, we set a scientifically backed greenhouse gas reduction goal.”

In early 2018, the company announced this goal as part of its clean energy vision.

“Now that we’ve set the goal, we’re figuring out how to implement it not just for the power we supply our customers, but also for other areas of our business,” said Horsley. “This work is pushing us to get our ducks in a row so we can look at our full greenhouse gas picture as a company and as an Oregon economy. I would definitely call our experience with the model a success. It gave us the right framework and roadmap to put our resources where we could have the most impact.”

In 2018, Horsley and five PGE colleagues received an EPRI Technology Transfer Award for their leadership in applying the model and using the recommendations.

According to Scott and Horsley, a comprehensive application of the model requires a substantial time commitment, but one that is well worth the effort.

“The biggest challenge is the time,” Scott said. “It takes a full day to go through the process for just one domain. For a lot of companies, it’s a huge commitment to ask 15–20 employees to take time out from their jobs to dive into this work. But as PGE has demonstrated, the reward can be substantial.”

“Successful sustainability initiatives require long-term effort,” said Horsley, adding that PGE’s emissions reduction strategy has progressed more quickly than its plans to improve energy affordability. “That’s a lesson learned—don’t expect all aspects of your sustainability program to progress at the same speed.”

“When you get started with this work, you’re not always going to see what the end of road looks like exactly,” Horsley said, “The work might lead to something bigger and better than what you originally planned, as it did with our greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal. We were able to build momentum toward the goal.”

Four other power companies have participated in similar EPRI-facilitated workshops to apply the model.

The model’s ongoing development is informed by participants in EPRI’s Strategic Sustainability Science program.

“The significant growth of the research reflects the growing expectations for power company sustainability from customers, employees, investors, nongovernmental organizations, and other stakeholders,” said Scott. “It also reflects the value that companies can realize through a commitment to sustainability. This includes more customer satisfaction, enhanced performance, increased efficiency, access to new capital, opportunities to explore new markets, and the ability to attract a new generation of employees.”

Key EPRI Technical Experts:

Morgan Scott
For more information, contact