For climate-conscious individuals, interest in reducing carbon footprints and supporting the transition to 100% clean energy has never been higher. Millions of Americans wish to ensure they can access clean electricity from their home. But finding the right ways to achieve this can feel daunting and time consuming, especially when it comes to understanding two different eco-friendly offerings – Renewable Energy Certificates and Carbon Offsets.
Upon first glance, these carbon emissions-related products can seem overly complicated. Sometimes, you want to just strip away the details and get to the main point. So, what is a Renewable Energy Certificate and Carbon Offset, how are the two products different, and which should I buy to make the most impact? Let’s find out.
What are Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)?
A Renewable Energy Certificate is issued when 1,000 kWh of clean electricity is generated by a renewable source (like a wind farm or a solar panel) and delivered to the electricity grid. Because no specific source of electricity can be delivered directly to your home (more on this in a bit), the REC is issued to recognize the value of renewable energy being added to the grid. RECs provide a way to reward the supplier for generating it. As the EPA describes it, Renewable Energy Certificates are “a market-based instrument that represents the property rights to the environmental, social and other non-power attributes of renewable electricity generation.”
RECs serve as proof that a specific amount of energy was generated by a specific clean generation source and a value is placed on societal and social benefits received in return. This is how we know specific amounts of clean energy are generated via renewable means and proper attribution is given to that specific clean generation source.
Why are RECs essential to clean energy generation?
It all comes back to how the electrical grid works. Think of the electrical grid like a giant swimming pool. No matter how a block of energy is generated – whether it’s coal power or clean power – that electricity is dumped into the electrical grid like a bucket of water into a pool. Electrons generated from clean sources mix in with electrons generated from dirty power plants. That’s why it’s impossible to distinguish where the energy from your specific home came from. The electricity is all just mixed together – you get whatever energy is available in the grid at the time you flip the switch.
So you won’t be able to ensure 100% clean energy in your home by accessing the grid until the grid is made up of only renewable sources. However, don’t be discouraged. Because it is very easy to match your electricity consumption with RECs and power that transition now. By purchasing RECs, you are matching every kilowatt hour of electricity you consume from a generic power source with a kilowatt hour of electricity that has been classified as renewable and clean.
How are Carbon Offsets different?
Carbon Offsets, on the other hand, are much simpler and are self-explanatory. A carbon offset will literally offset an individual, business, or other organization’s carbon emissions by funding the removal of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. By purchasing an offset, you are directly supporting a project that reduces carbon emissions, enhances carbon removal, or increases carbon storage.
One example of a carbon offset is a carbon-capture project. By purchasing this carbon offset, you are providing the funding needed to directly remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through its capture. This is why the units of carbon offsets are in pounds of carbon dioxide – you are paying to have some amount (in weight) of greenhouse gas removed.
How do Carbon Offsets and Renewable Energy Certificates both help create a cleaner, more sustainable future?
Both offsets and RECs represent the environmental benefits of certain actions that can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Offsets represent a metric ton of emissions avoided or reduced. RECs represent attributes of 1,000 kWh of renewable electricity generation.
If you want the energy you use in your home to come from renewables, purchasing enough RECs to match your consumption is the easiest and cheapest way to do your part now. (And lucky for you, if you are a Hero Power customer, you are already receiving this. Otherwise, you can sign up here.)
To account for your other activities that produce carbon emissions, like driving or taking flights, you can purchase carbon offsets to remove that equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. These offsets are also available to purchase through the Hero Power shop.