Climate change is a challenging issue for our world and our nation. Southern Company is committed to a leadership role in finding solutions that make technological, environmental and economic sense.
The focus of our efforts is on developing and deploying technologies that reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) while making sure that energy remains reliable and affordable. Southern Company believes that this is the most responsible approach to meeting the needs of the environment, the system’s customers and our shareholders.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG)
Southern Company leads the industry in conducting robust research and development of new innovative energy technologies – and in deploying those technologies to address GHG emissions. GHG emission reduction is a major focus of the company's research and development organization, which has a historic record of technology advancement since the 1960s.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a byproduct of combustion. Southern Company is researching—with the federal government and other partners—how to capture and store CO2 emitted from power plants to keep it out of the atmosphere.
Methane (CH4) is the primary GHG emitted from the Southern Company Gas distribution system. The primary sources of CH4 emissions are aging pipelines and other appurtenant facilities, relief activities during system operations and maintenance and excavation damage. Aging bare steel and cast iron pipe have the highest potential to develop leaks in a natural gas system.
A lesser known gas, sulfur hexafluoride, has been a focus of Southern Company's attention. Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) has more than 20,000 times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide on a pound-for-pound basis.
The Southern Company system has hundreds of transmission substations with approximately two thousand breakers that use SF6 for its essential insulating properties. Southern Company was a charter member of Environmental Protection Agency's Voluntary SF6 Emission Reduction Partnership which began in 1999.
GHG Emission Disclosure
The Southern Company system’s GHG emissions have decreased since 2005. Without federal mandates, total annual emissions in 2016 were approximately 27 percent lower than 2005 levels.
Southern Company System-wide GHG emissions
The emissions shown here are based on electricity generating units and electricity and natural gas transmission and distribution systems for which the Southern Company system has financial control. For 2016, the Southern Company system’s GHG emissions were approximately 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). This represents an approximately 2 percent decrease from the company’s 2015 emissions.
Southern Company Business Division GHG emissions
Most of the Southern Company system’s GHG emissions result from the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity, which results in emissions of three GHGs: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). More than 99 percent of the system’s electric generation GHG emissions are CO2.
Southern Company Electric Sector GHG intensity
Although a slight increase in overall electricity generation demand occurred in 2016, an overall decrease in emissions was achieved due to the shift from coal toward increased natural gas and renewable generation.
The change in the Southern Company system’s electricity generation mix is reflected in GHG emissions intensity. In 2016, GHG intensity on a financially controlled basis was about 1,172 pounds (lbs) CO2e per megawatt hour (MWh).
Southern Company Gas Sector Methane emissions
For nearly two decades, Southern Company Gas has reported natural gas CH4 emissions through Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Gas STAR voluntary reporting program and through EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program since 2011. The figure below shows a summary of Southern Company Gas’ EPA reported fugitive CH4 methane emissions from 2011-2016.
Southern Company Sulfur Hexafluoride Emissions
Annual emissions of SF6 have been reduced by more than 90 percent since the 1990s. SF6 represents the smallest percentage of the generation system’s GHG emissions.
Carbon reduction activities
To keep electricity costs affordable while meeting the demand for lower GHG emissions, the Southern Company system invests in the research, development and deployment of new technologies, such as carbon capture, utilization and storage.
Carbon capture, utilization and storage
The National Carbon Capture Center is a focal point of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) efforts to develop advanced technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal- and natural gas-based power generation. The world-class test facility, managed and operated by Southern Company in Alabama, works with scientists and technology developers from government, industry, university and research organizations who are creating the next generation of carbon capture technologies. The center also chairs the International Test Center Network, a global coalition of facilities working to accelerate the research and development of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies.
The operating companies of the Southern Company system develop their environmental compliance strategies on a coordinated basis, using inputs and expertise from several organizations across the system.
The system’s GHG emissions are calculated using methods required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) GHG Reporting Program (GHGRP), including the GHGRP’s global warming potentials and emission factors. The emissions reported under the GHGRP are verified by EPA and based on units for which the system has operational control.
Most of the system’s electricity generation GHG emissions are measured with continuous emissions monitoring systems (CEMs) per EPA’s 40 Code of Federal Regulations Part 75 specifications. Emissions not monitored by CEMs are calculated based on GHG mandatory reporting rule methodology. Several electricity generating units operated by Southern Company subsidiaries are owned or co-owned by various other companies.
Methane reduction activities
For more than two decades, Southern Company Gas has spearheaded several projects that reduce methane emissions, served as a trusted education source for consumers and participated in federal emissions reduction programs.
Emission intensity goals
The methane emissions intensity rate is calculated as the volume of fugitive methane emissions divided by the total volume of methane throughput and expressed as a percentage. In 2016, Southern Company Gas’ fugitive methane emissions intensity rate was 0.25 percent, where the total methane emissions were 1,900 million standard cubic feet (Mmscf) and methane throughput was approximately 767,000 Mmscf.
Southern Company Gas’ emissions intensity reduction goals mirror those established by the Our Nation's Future Energy Program (ONE Future). Southern Company Gas’ current intensity rate of 0.25 percent is less than ONE Future goals for 2020 (0.48 percent) and 2025 (0.44 percent). Southern Company Gas expects to continue to remain below ONE Future's 2020 and 2025 goals.
Southern Company Gas has been a leader in pipeline replacement since the 1990s, putting it at the forefront of reducing GHG emissions. The company has replaced much of its older pipe with polyethylene or corrosion resistant steel pipes, and it reports progress each year through public utility commissions and other government agency filings. Since 1998, Southern Company Gas has replaced 5,300 miles of bare steel and cast iron pipe and, as a result, has removed 2.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from its natural gas distribution system.
Southern Company Gas continues to work diligently with state public service commissions to remove aging pipe from its system. All seven local distribution companies continue to achieve methane emission reductions through system modernization.
Southern Company Gas
Pipeline Replacement Program Overview*
Leak detection and repair protocols
Southern Company Gas performs leakage surveys of its pipelines in accordance with Federal Pipeline Safety Regulations (49 CFR Part 192). Specifically, transmission lines are surveyed annually for leaks in accordance with CFR Part 192.706; business districts are surveyed annually in accordance with CFR Part 192.723 (b) (1); and the remaining distribution pipelines are surveyed for leaks every three or five years, in accordance with CFR Part 192.723 (b) (2). Leakage surveys are conducted using a combination of aerial, vehicular and foot surveys with electronic leak detection equipment.
Leaks are monitored and repaired in accordance with the national guidance material associated with CFR Part 192.723. Repairs on hazardous leaks are started immediately upon discovery. Non-hazardous leaks that have the potential to become hazardous, are repaired within 15 months of discovery.
Reporting and regulatory compliance
In 2014, Southern Company Gas voluntarily elected to establish a total GHG emissions baseline using a methodology that exceeds Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reporting requirements. The more robust methodology was developed as part of Southern Company Gas’ involvement as a 2014 founding member in Our Nation’s Energy (ONE) Future, a coalition of leading companies with operations in every part of the natural gas value chain. ONE Future companies aim to achieve a voluntary goal of reducing methane emissions to 1 percent or less by 2025. The methodology includes those sources captured in EPA's GHG Reporting Program, EPA’s National Inventory and additional emission sources which are not included by EPA.