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⚡ "Is 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy the Right Goal?"


Photo by Johannes Plenio / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: David Roberts
Category: ⚡Renewable Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:52] “An intrinsic part of the 24/7 vision is that each hourly REC (Renewable Energy Certificate) will be tagged with a certain amount of avoided carbon. This will allow buyers to make procurement decisions that take emissions into account. There are some issues and controversies around calculating avoided carbon […]. Some carbon counters have proprietary formulas, like what time, and some are trying to develop open source methods like energy tag. The numbers they produce are not radically different, but they do differ. They vary in how they calculate the marginal, i.e. most expensive, energy source on a grid at a given moment. […] They differ in how to draw the geographic boundary of analysis which can affect results and other stuff like that. […] If you look at the electricity map, which seeks to track the carbon intensity of every grid in the world at every hour, you will see that there are still big holes, areas where utilities have not made the data public. New regulations and laws requiring grid operators to make these numbers available is another priority.”

[5:23] “Unlike air pollution, which concentrates where it is emitted, carbon dioxide diffuses completely into the atmosphere. It doesn't matter where it is emitted. All tons are the same, from a climate perspective. […] It follows that if you're a company that wants to reduce carbon emissions, the thing to do is buy clean energy on the dirtiest grid possible, wherever it will displace the most carbon intensive energy and thus prevent the most emissions. If you take an international perspective, that will probably be somewhere overseas in Asia or Africa. If you take a US perspective, it will be in states like West Virginia, Wyoming and Kentucky. The best way to do this is with bundled RECs. RECs that are purchased together with the energy that produced them through long term power purchase agreements or PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements). Because that's the approach most likely to actually lead to new clean energy projects being built.”

[6:44] “If you want to reduce emissions with your CFE (Carbon-Free Energy) procurement, it must be guided not only by what's most likely to lead to new projects, ie additionality, but also by what will reduce the most emissions, ie emissionality. […] Optimizing your clean energy procurement for emissionality is different from optimizing it for your own 24/7 consumption. The former strategy maximizes emission reductions, the latter does not. In some cases, optimizing around your own consumption could fail to reduce emissions or even increase net emissions despite increasing your share of CFE.”

[7:45] “One simple example: Imagine one company assigned a bunch of solar PPAs and thus has more hourly RECs during the day than it needs to cover its consumption. But it has a shortage at night. Another company has signed a bunch of wind PPAs and thus has excess hourly RECs at night, but a shortage during the day. The companies can simply trade hourly RECs. Each has increased its CFE score, but no new clean energy was built and no carbon emissions were reduced.”

[9:42] “Emissions are emissions. Reducing any one company's emissions is of no particular benefit to the climate. Just reduce emissions wherever you can. That's the climate imperative. This same debate expresses itself in several different forms. One way to think of the distinction is between attributional and consequential carbon accounting. Critics say attributional accounting, purchasing energy with a REC attached, is fine for statutory or voluntary clean energy requirements. But when it comes to reducing carbon emissions, companies should use consequential accounting, i.e. purchasing energy that has the most short term emission reduction impact.”

[11:37] “When I talked to Princeton energy modeler, Jesse Jenkins, who contributed to the modeling of 24/7 CFE […], he suggested a helpful analogy to the debate between emissionality and 24/7. The debate between a carbon tax and more sector specific standards and investments ie industrial policy. A carbon tax is the most economically efficient way to reduce emissions. It will go after the cheapest emissions first. But by doing so it will leave untouched many sectors of the economy that we will eventually need to decarbonize to get to 100% net zero. If we leave them untouched for too long, we'll run into a wall.”

[22:25] “Pretty much everyone […] I spoke to emphasize that there are other values beyond emission reduction that are important to integrate into procurement decisions as well, most notably environmental justice. Last year, Salesforce released a white paper “More than a megawatt”, explaining its evolving view on large scale corporate procurement. It wants to go beyond emissionality to assess potential clean energy projects based on a whole range of criteria from equity to land use to impacts on wildlife. There are always trade offs among these metrics. So Salesforce has developed a procurement matrix that will help away all these factors and determine which project is best optimized for multiple values.”

[23:13] “Notice that the more of these values enter your procurement matrix, the farther you are from a pure 24/7 play. Instead of optimizing for any single value you are, as in life generally trying to balance multiple competing values under time and resource constraints. That can be complicated. It will help if big players like Salesforce create some standardized tools and metrics that make it easier for midsize companies to follow suit. Individual companies and cities can decide for themselves how much weight they want to give to 24/7 […] relative to other values.”

Rating: ⚡⚡⚡

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 25 min | 🗓️ 11/19/2021
✅ Time saved: 23 min

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