Environment and Sustainability


Environmental research has often been pursued in response to compliance challenges, as electric power companies have sought the best options for complying with specific environmental regulations. But taking care of the environment goes beyond compliance. Environmental stewardship calls for critical, strategic activity integrated into every aspect of creating and operating a sustainable electric power system. Increasingly, industry leaders' thinking is driven by factors tied to sustainability, which goes well beyond an environmental compliance focus to improved corporate performance in risk management, capital productivity, financial performance, and technology innovation and growth. EPRI's environmental research provides global thought leadership to shape a sustainable future for electricity through collaborative environmental science and technology research. It conducts cross-cutting science and technology research that addresses environmental, health, and economic issues from the generation, delivery, and use of electricity. Research focuses on air, land, water and energy challenges; informs public policy; enables sustainable practices; and improves occupational health and safety.


For more information please contact:

Chris Mahoney
Communications Manager
Phone: 704-595-2653
Email: cmahoney@epri.com

 ‭(Hidden)‬ Content Editor

Electricity and its impacts Sustainability Health and Safety
Fossil Fuels
Air Emissions:
Many gaps remain in our understanding of the sources and fate of air emissions such as NOx, SOx Particulate Matter and Greenhouse Gases. Due to continually evolving emission sources and uncertainty about future trends, active emissions monitoring is required for power plants. EPRI is a leader in efforts to examine the fate and deposition of air emissions by using basic health science, risk assessment, and characterization and chemical analyses across air, land and water.
Air Quality Modeling:
Power plant emissions require an enhanced understanding of how atmospheric chemical reactions create their compositions and impact overall air quality. The development and improvement of air quality models that measure emissions chemistry, transport and measurement is essential given their already abundant use and anticipated expansion due to air quality regulation and management. EPRI is at the forefront of developing advanced air quality models that can inform policy and regulatory decision making while simultaneously informing utility environmental compliance, asset management and long-term strategic planning.
Greenhouse Gases:
EPRI conducts research that estimates the economic costs of climate policy proposals against the backdrop of other energy, environmental, and economic policies. This research also examines the role of technology advances and explores detailed policy design and institutional development questions such as large-scale greenhouse gas offsets as a lower-cost and environmentally effective compliance strategy. EPRI's research in technology investment as it relates to policy design is essential to having emission reduction options available when needed in the future.
Water Quality:

Watershed-based resource management and protection strategies allow power plants to adapt innovative water quality compliance approaches to existing wastewater limits. While additional contaminants are considered for regulation and new air quality controls change the characteristics of water discharges, power plant water quality and water resource compliance managers are challenged to address these issues from watershed and end-of-pipe perspectives.

EPRI brings a comprehensive approach to water quality management and watershed protection, accounting for a variety of emissions from power plants, the impacts of new environmental controls on aquatic discharges and contributions from other sources. Our research also develops guidelines for effective management of wastewater streams and cost-effective, reliable options for wastewater treatment.

Fish Protection:
Power plants regularly consider the protection of fish and aquatic life in the lakes, streams, rivers, estuaries, and oceans that supply necessary water for electricity generation. Operators must also consider requirements that limit heated water discharges into the water sources power plants draw from. EPRI helps power plant operators understand and manage water resources while protecting aquatic communities through the development of viable water intake technologies and discharge approaches. Our work provides access and testing of new and enhanced fish protection technologies that account for environmental and electricity system impacts like the pinning of organisms against cooling water intake screens and the passing of aquatic organisms into and through cooling water systems.
Water Availability:
Water resources are continually strained by population increases and shifts, competing residential, commercial and industrial demands and aquatic ecosystem protection measures. Without access to sufficient water supplies, power plants could be forced to reduce power output and new plant developments could be hindered. These challenges place pressure on electric utilities to minimize water consumption and increase plant efficiencies. EPRI research in water availability develops tools and information that electric utilities can use to recognize the perspectives of all water resource stakeholders. Our work also allows industry participants to understand evolving water and electric power policy development and helps to build strategies for a water-constrained future—all while taking a holistic, community-based approach to water resource use and risk management.
Utilities generate by-products and solid wastes that require careful examination and remediation efforts to mitigate or prevent land and groundwater contamination. EPRI's research focuses on issues that inform remediation such as understanding the fate and transport of contaminants and developing cost effective environmental impact strategies. In addition, EPRI informs the industry through analyses of coal combustion product characteristics, environmental assessments of landfills and ponds, beneficial use applications, and detection of fuel spill risks or liquids or gases from electricity infrastructure.
Vegetation Management:
As transmission and distribution infrastructure expands and ages, electric utilities seek to minimize environmental impacts from animal and vegetation interaction. Right of Way (ROW) management standards balance the goals of providing safe and reliable electricity while maintaining vegetation that provides critical habitats for wildlife. EPRI's ROW research identifies vegetation management practices to reduce outages, enhance ecological value through improved habitats and minimal use of herbicides, and supplement our understanding of wildlife interaction with transmission and distribution infrastructure.
Policy Impacts:

Electric utilities face unprecedented uncertainties from a broad range of air, land, water, climate, renewable and clean energy regulations and policies as well as dynamic fuel markets and fluctuating electricity demand and economic growth. Outcomes of these actions will drive decisions about technology retrofits or plant retirements. EPRI's research integrates analyses of critical energy, environmental and economic issues as an information source for existing and emerging energy and environmental policies, regulatory compliance options and generation planning strategies.

Modeling tools supply fundamental insights on the cost and performance of policy impacts and alternatives. These insights inform company investment decisions and strategies for compliance with energy and environmental policies and regulations, accounting for changing fuel and electricity markets. EPRI research offers comprehensive data and comparative assessments of generation technology costs and performance in the context of generation planning needs that can also inform asset investment decisions.

Fossil Fuels

Electric power companies face unique challenges and tradeoffs related to sustainability as they work to manage financial, environmental, and social performance, while providing safe, clean, reliable, and affordable power. Electric power companies can achieve enduring growth, superior long-term financial performance, reduced costs, improved risk management, and stronger stakeholder relationships by strategically addressing sustainability issues. EPRI's growing portfolio of sustainability research provides insights on materiality, metrics, maturity, reporting, and other emerging sustainability issues. The following research reports are available for download on www.epri.com/sustainability.

Fossil Fuels

New transmission & distribution construction and capacity upgrades, along with expanding smart grid technologies' reliance on wireless communications, has created public concern about possible human health risks from EMF and RF exposures. Such concerns can lead to construction and project schedule delays and changes in exposure guidelines for public health protection.

EPRI conducts research that contributes to scientific knowledge on potential health effects of EMF/RF exposures and provides health risk evaluations that informs exposure guideline development to help electric utilities protect workers and public safety.

Health Effects of Air Pollutants:

Health studies indicate important associations between air pollutants and human health effects. However, there is scientific uncertainty about which individual components of pollutants are related to adverse health effects or how these components interact with other air pollutants. Particulate Matter, for example, is composed of hundreds of individual components and there is growing scientific consensus that not all of these components are equally toxic.

EPRI addresses key scientific uncertainties to determine which components are associated with health effects, and our efforts generate information to support health risk estimates of these components. Our research also seeks to identify the true causative agents, and the sources of those agents, affecting human health and the environment.

Worker Safety:
Rules governing occupational health and safety influence the amount of exposure monitoring, injury prevention and training programs and engineering controls or best practice guidelines required for electricity industry workers. EPRI's research in worker safety provides scientific information on workplace injury and illness prevention and offers the basis for informed health and safety practices, including ergonomic interventions and noise and chemical exposures, for current and future electricity infrastructure.