Reno Embraces Data to Meet Climate Goals

To Develop a Burgeoning Carbon Management Industry

Over the past year, the City of Reno has been tracking its carbon emissions through nZero, a carbon management platform. After the city council adopted a sustainability and climate action plan in July 2019, the city needed a way to measure its progress against its stated goals. Now, the city has found itself at the forefront of a burgeoning new industry.

“We put out a request for information on an energy management system and many came back quite expensive, without fully tracking the operational footprint we wanted,” said Suzanne Groneman, the sustainability program manager for the City of Reno. “Then we received a call from a representative at nZero, which at the time was called Ledger8760, and they recognized that the city had unique needs and while it would be a heavy lift, they were up for the challenge.”

image courtesy of the City of Reno

The City of Reno entered into a contract with nZero on May 26, 2021 that runs through June 30, 2022. Now, as the contract approaches its one-year term, the city is working on an extension to the contract that would continue the partnership.

“The scope of work that we presented to [nZero] was the ability to onboard all electrical meters for all locations, everything down to a single outlet in a park,” Groneman said. “So the onboarding during our first year was developing all the data outputs that we were hoping for, like identifying the different sites to track emissions and energy usage.”

The city used to manually input and track its energy data, which meant that only a limited number of buildings were being monitored and a broad swath of potential data points were being missed. nZero’s business model, which automatically tracks carbon emissions into a database, provided a solution to the city’s needs. 

Reno Nevada’s climate goals – image courtesy of nZero

Moving forward, the city intends to use the data to inform its decision-making into the future. 

“As an example, I can look at a fire station that has solar power and compare it to a similarly-sized fire station and make a case for another fire station having solar,” Groneman said. “Another example would be our city’s vehicle fleet. You can see the environmental impact of a large fleet of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. Now we can compare that to our EVs and start having information to back up making those types of decisions.”

The city is also working with nZero for an automated reporting feature for the carbon data it’s collecting. 

image courtesy of the City of Reno

Groneman says their overall goal is to see reductions, both from a taxpayer cost and environmental standpoint. Through the creation of an online information portal, evidence of a key achievement of the partnership over the past year, this partnership enables the city to be accountable in these efforts.

“We have a responsibility to our citizens to both save money and prove that, while yes, there might be a large, upfront expense for something like solar power, we can show over time that we’re actually saving taxpayer dollars and that’s important,” Groneman said. “It’s showing our citizens that we’re doing our part to reduce that environmental footprint and reduce taxpayer cost at the same time.”

The collaborative public-private partnership in carbon management is not unique to the city of Reno, however, as Washoe County and the State of Nevada have partnered with nZero for their own respective climate initiatives as well. 

image courtesy of the City of Reno

“We began working with the state of Nevada, Washoe County and City of Reno last year to provide them visibility into their environmental impact,” said Adam Kramer, CEO of nZero. “We’re conducting a pilot project with the State of Nevada to assess the 24/7 environmental impact of five buildings. The state passed legislation in 2017 stating their goals of being carbon free by 2040 and you can’t change what you can’t measure, so they wanted to see how this process works on five buildings.”

David Bobzien, the director of the Governor’s Office of Energy, in an emailed statement to the Ally, acknowledged the state’s working partnership with nZero.

“Because the software is in a pilot stage of implementation, there isn’t anything to report at this time,” Bobzien wrote. “We initiated the pilot project to review the software as a tool to aid in greenhouse gas emissions accounting from government buildings, and once the pilot concludes in June, we will report on our experience to the Governor’s Office as they continue to explore whole-of-government emissions reduction opportunities.”

The involvement of public agencies in carbon tracking and management illustrates Nevada’s role at the forefront of what appears to be a burgeoning new industry.

image courtesy of the City of Reno

“The State of Nevada, Washoe County, and the City of Reno were our first public agencies, but they’re not the only ones,” Kramer said. “These public agencies are making decisions every day, from procurement to operations, on reducing their environmental impact to reach stated goals. Since they’re using taxpayer money, they want to be transparent about how they spend money, the impact of the money they’re spending and the decisions they’re making.”

For Kramer, public agencies across jurisdiction levels are buying into the carbon management platform because they realize the benefits a service like nZero’s provides.

“Once a decision is made, the results of that data are being tracked live and in real-time,” Kramer said. “That’s why there’s so much government buy-in to this, it sets them to an even higher standard.”

Considering nZero was founded in Reno, Kramer believes the partnerships his company has developed with its local public agencies embodies the emerging tech environment in the state.

“Working with public sector clients that believe in helping build a more business-friendly environment and engaging directly with these proactive technologies for carbon accounting and management sends a strong message to people who are looking at the state from an economic development point of view,” Kramer said. “It shows that they want you to be in a place that believes in its entrepreneurs and grows with them.”

Groneman, too, recognizes the large scope of the city’s partnership with nZero brings value to a developing carbon management industry.

“I like to think we actually helped [nZero] build a product that was useful for other cities, so that they could just take this turnkey solution to other cities or counties,” Groneman said. “But the fact that nZero is based in Reno and expanding and growing as rapidly as they are, it’s exciting. It helps our case and our narrative around the importance of efforts like this in that it’s not just us, it’s private businesses going in this direction of carbon management, as well.”

image courtesy of the City of Reno

By extending the city’s contract with nZero, Groneman believes the city’s carbon management database will facilitate future opportunities for the city.

“Simply tracking this data and having it at our fingertips will help with things like grant proposals in the future,” Groneman said. “A carbon database doesn’t necessarily stand alone, either. The capability to pull this data down will help other efforts and create other opportunities that may have even broader impacts in the community.”

That’s why the city is still looking to expand the range of data inputs for nZero to track in the future.

“Our next steps are to figure out how to integrate and synthesize our waste data and water data,” Groneman said. “It’s also important that we can pull data at the same intervals and across timeframes because if we don’t get a regular stream of data across all the different things we’re trying to track, it compromises the value of our database. So we’re trying to figure out how all these pieces of energy: water, fuel, waste, and ensure that all those data points are synthesized in a way that can inform our future decisions.”

Scott King writes about science and the environment for the Sierra Nevada Ally. He has a Master’s degree in Media Innovation from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing with a minor in Marketing from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. Scott served for two years as a literacy instructor with the Peace Corps in the community of Gouyave, Grenada. Support his work.

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