Carbon accounting for the energy use of streetlighting

This blog post is relevant for Councils who want to make sure they are reporting the energy consumption of streetlights in their Local Government Area under the right carbon accounting scope.

This blog post assumes prior knowledge of carbon accounting. If you would like to find out more about how to develop carbon inventories, we highly recommend you download the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting Standard, or talk to us about developing your carbon footprint.

The energy consumption of street lighting

Streetlighting is usually owned by network operators and is mostly unmetered. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) maintains the “National Electricity Market Load Tables for Unmetered Connection Points”, including street lighting. The NEM load tables list all tested street lighting devices, including their full wattage as tested in each state and territory in the NEM.

For every Local Government Area, network operators apply hours of operation (typically dusk to dawn) to the NEM load table wattage for all installed unmetered street lights to determine monthly electricity consumption.

Where street lighting is metered the Council will simply receive electricity bills that record the actual electricity consumed in each billing period.

The higher the power rating of a particular luminaire, the higher the energy consumption and the related charges. This is why it makes sense for Councils to consider bulk upgrades to LED lighting.

The carbon footprint of street lighting

Street lighting makes up a significant proportion of a Council’s carbon footprint, especially in metropolitan areas, where there are many streetlights. Upgrading to LED lighting makes sense from a financial perspective, but it also significantly lowers the carbon footprint of street lighting.

The carbon footprint of street lighting is made up of the energy consumption of the street lighting, as well as the transmission and distribution (T&D) losses in getting the energy from the power generators to the luminaires.

Accounting for street lighting from the network operator’s perspective

The energy consumption of the streetlights is classified as ‘Scope 2’ from the network operator’s perspective. The T&D losses are also classified as ‘Scope 2’ from the network operator’s perspective, as the network ‘consumes’ the electricity.

Accounting for street lighting from a council’s perspective

Under standard carbon accounting rules, one could assume that a council should classify street lighting as a Scope 3 emissions source to avoid double counting.

However, it depends on what approach is used to consolidate carbon emissions. According to the GHG Protocol Corporate Accounting Standard, there are two approaches: the equity share and the control approaches.

Under the equity share approach, a council would report street lighting under Scope 3 if the network operator owns the street lights.

However, if a council is using an ‘operational control’ approach in their carbon accounting, it comes down to the question of what entity has the ‘operational control’.

The answer to this question determines whether a council would classify the energy consumption of streetlights as a ‘Scope 2’, or as a ‘Scope 3’ emission.

Some councils believe that the network operator has control. Others view that council has operational control, for the following reasons:

  • council pays for the asset through amortisation of the capital expenditure and for O&M expenses including electricity, and
  • council can decide whether they want a lighting upgrade or not.

Examples of how councils report their street lighting energy use

The following table shows a small selection of councils and how they account for the electricity consumption of street lighting.

CouncilScope classification of energy consumption of street lighting
Brisbane City CouncilScope 2 for Council-controlled streetlights
Scope 3 for third-party controlled streetlights
City of SydneyScope 2 (network-owned streetlighting deemed to be within the City’s financial control)
City of YarraScope 3
Moreland City CouncilScope 3
Randwick City CouncilScope 3

Under what scope should a council report its street lighting energy use?

Operational control is the most important consideration, but there are others you should be aware of. We have developed the following table which can help you make the right decision.

PreferenceResultant scope for the energy consumption of street lighting
Council deems street lighting to be under its operational controlScope 2
Council deems street lighting to be under the operational control of the network providerScope 3
Council wants to avoid double counting of emissionsScope 3
Council wants to report an NGER-compliant carbon footprint which includes street lighting (noting this may result in double counting)Scope 2
Council has a carbon reduction goal for scope 1 and 2 and is upgrading to LED street lightingScope 2 (to capture the emissions reduction)
Council has a carbon reduction goal for scope 1, 2 and 3 and is upgrading to LED street lightingScope 2 or Scope 3, depending on operational control

Example of how you would account for street-lighting

To show the implications of these decisions on how you actually calculate the carbon emissions, we are providing an example which is based on the emissions factor for NSW (July 2018 NGA factors).

Emission sourceScopeEmissions factor in t of CO2-e per MWh
Energy consumption20.82
T&D losses30.10
Total lifecycle emissions2 and 30.92

Based on these emission factors, the following graphic shows two scenarios. Option 1 classifies street lighting as Scope 2, and option 2 classifies it as Scope 3.

Options to account for street lighting in your carbon inventory
Options to account for street lighting in your carbon inventory

Under Option 1, where you classify streetlighting as Scope 2, you would account for the energy consumption of your streetlights as Scope 2, and for the T&D losses as Scope 3.

Under Option 2, where you classify streetlighting as Scope 3, you would account for both the energy consumption and T&D losses under Scope 3.

So under what scope should you report your street-lighting consumption?

First, determine your preferences and reporting needs as per table 2 above. Then adjust your carbon accounting accordingly. Please bear in mind that the carbon accounting software package you might be using may have a fixed Scope classification and may not provide you with a choice.

Carbon accounting can be complex, and it pays to get the help of experts. If you need help, please contact Barbara or Patrick.

Feel free to use an excerpt of this blog on your own site, newsletter, blog, etc. Just send us a copy or link and include the following text at the end of the excerpt: “This content is reprinted from 100% Renewables Pty Ltd’s blog.