10 years of impact: on WattTime’s 10th birthday, a look back… and forward.

Here at WattTime we’re more accustomed to looking forward, rather than backward, with a focus on further impact we can help to catalyze. But today is a special date in our history. It’s our 10th birthday! February 21, 2024 marks a decade to the day since our official incorporation in 2014. And so in this article we’re going to be unusually introspective, taking a look back at some of the pivotal milestones and accomplishments of these past 10 years — and what we’re most excited about in the years ahead.

1. Behavioral economics academic research around choice.

 In the early 2010s, many of the first eventual WattTimers were grad students at UC Berkeley. We were behavioral economists, software programmers, data scientists. And we all shared a fundamental intellectual curiosity: What happens on the power grid when you flip on a light switch?

It seemed crazy that we, as everyday consumers, did not know. It was equally infuriating that we had no power over whether our electricity use caused more or less pollution. Yet we turned that sort of righteous indignation into opportunity via hackathons to try and figure out the answer.

2. Officially born in 2014 as a mission-centric nonprofit… with a software tech startup DNA.

As initial hackathons progressed and we rolled up our proverbial sleeves further, we soon discovered — to our surprise — that everyone else had this righteous indignation about it, too. They wanted the opportunity to voluntarily go green, if only given the choice to do so. A/B consumer testing strongly confirmed this hypothesis. (Subsequent consumer sentiment and behavior research, such as with our partners at the Great Lakes Protection Fund, have further affirmed our initial findings.) All of which prompted us to found WattTime as a mission-driven nonprofit, even though the solutions taking shape would have a high-tech software aspect to them.

3. Pioneering the idea of AER, powered by v1 MOERs.

Those first hackathons eventually evolved and matured into our first flagship solution: Automated Emissions Reduction (AER). AER provides a signal for smart devices to schedule their electricity use for times when they will cause less emissions and pollution.

We began with direct-to-consumer ideas such as smart plugs. The first adoption by an external user was four golf carts at UC Merced. Then things started to snowball with major tech companies and automakers, spanning technologies such as smart thermostats, battery energy storage systems, EVs (and their charging), and beyond.

v1 of our marginal operating emissions rate (MOER) powered this capability. We upgraded to v3 MOERs in 2021, also now available in a new-and-improved v3 API, including expanding geographic coverage for power grids around the world.

4. Championing the importance of marginal emissions.

When we started out with AER, as academics we knew that the best way to measure the impact of interventions (i.e., academic speak for things like load shifting) was to use marginal emissions, such as our MOER signal. This built upon the established, peer-reviewed literature that came before us.

More recently, though, we have found ourselves in important industry discussions (and sometimes, heated debates) about using average vs. marginal emissions rates. We didn’t set out with any expectation of getting involved in such debates; it has simply come with the job description.

The commercial tides are now turning in favor of the long-established academic findings. The likes of Microsoft, TimberRock, Brainbox AI, and others building WattTime and other marginal emissions signals into their energy and carbon intelligence platforms. Now there’s also, VERACI-T, a cross-industry collaborative group validating marginal emissions datasets.

5. 2017–2018: WattTime’s “Oscars party” collective moment.

For any idea or solution, there’s a time when it starts to gain real traction and recognition in the market. For us, these years were that moment — both for WattTime as an organization and for individual members of our team.

Our co-founder and executive director Gavin McCormick was named a climate “fixer” in the 2017 edition of the Grist 50, an annual list of emerging green leaders and bold problem solvers. One year later in 2018, he was named a finalist to the Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award at the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability, which focuses on “uncovering promising young innovators and boosting their careers as champions for the environment.”

That same year, ‘emissionality’ was recognized as a finalist in the 2018 Shorty Impact Awards and AER was recognized as a finalist in the Emerging Technology of the Year category of S&P Global Platts’ annual Global Energy Awards. 2018 became an even bigger year when AER was named a winner of the 2018 Keeling Curve Prize, an initiative that recognizes and rewards the most promising projects that effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions or increase carbon uptake.

6. An emissions signal for battery energy storage.

A different level of credibility came into play when government agencies and programs began incorporating some of our emissions signal work.

In California, for example, battery energy storage systems under the Public Utility Commission’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) were supposed to help the state’s grid reduce its carbon emissions. That wasn’t happening — until SGIP began using WattTime to develop their program signal, ensuring battery energy storage programs achieved their actual emissions-reduction goals.

Now other states and jurisdictions are exploring similar approaches, using more direct measurement of the target metric (e.g., marginal emissions), rather than proxy signals and assumptions (e.g., price or roundtrip BESS efficiency).

7. A shift toward Impact Accounting.

Carbon accounting standards — especially the GHG Protocol’s prevalent Scope 2 guidance around the indirect emissions associated with electricity use — have motivated sweeping clean energy investments from corporations and institutions worldwide.

But best practices evolve with the times. Which is why we’ve teamed up with companies such as REsurety and written joint position papers with organizations such as Electricity Maps. It’s why we cheer on our corporate partners at the Emissions First Partnership and why we’ve written our own insight brief on the idea of Impact Accounting.

These and other efforts all aim to help better align corporate actions with true real-world impact and authentic emissions reductions, and to combat a rise in greenwashing concerns and skepticism around hollow actions that don’t achieve their proclaimed benefits.

8. Expanding from climate to health damages. 

Although we started our work years ago focused primarily on carbon emissions, we also recognize the importance of mercury and other forms of power plant air pollution — including their impacts on human health and environmental justice. So after much hard work, we unveiled a new health damages signal, which ties electricity use (and its associated grid emissions) to human harm.

9. Surpassing 1 billion watts of emissionality. 

Toward the end of the previous decade, we popularized emissionality as a next evolution of and complement to additionality.

As a strategy for clean energy procurement, the idea behind emissionality is simple: Not all renewable energy is created equal. The avoided emissions of a new wind or solar farm can vary, by a lot, depending on where that project gets built and what power plants its generation displaces. The size of the prize is literally gigatons of avoided emissions opportunity on the table.

Boston University was one of the first organizations to adopt the strategy. Others soon followed: steelmaker Nucor, tech giant Salesforce, solar developer Clearloop, advisory Edison Energy, and others have also leaned into an emissionality strategy for their clean energy procurement.

Toward that end, last year we were thrilled to surpass 1 GW of renewables procured via this strategy. Less than 6 months later, we’re already closing in on the next gigawatts of wind and solar procured in part with emissionality in mind.

10. Co-founding Climate TRACE and incorporating satellite-based emissions monitoring.

In 2019 we announced a new project to measure emissions of the world’s power plants from space, launched with grant support from Google.org’s AI Impact Challenge and covered by the likes of Vox. By 2020, that initial effort had expanded in a big way into Climate TRACE, a global coalition of NGOs, tech companies, universities, and climate leaders including Al Gore using satellites and AI to measure human-caused GHG emissions from essentially all of the major sources on the planet.

Across the three years since then, Climate TRACE’s data have progressed by leaps and bounds, rapidly advancing from country-level annual data to facility-level data for 350+ million assets in the world’s most-comprehensive and granular such dataset, which we unveiled in December 2023 on the mainstage at COP28.

Along the way, Climate TRACE has been named to Fast Company’s “most innovative” list and TIME’s “100 best inventions.” We received the Sierra Club’s Earthcare Award and our executive director Gavin McCormick gave a TED talk on Climate TRACE that’s been viewed nearly 1.8 million times.

But it’s the use of the data for faster, deeper decarbonization that makes us most proud. From national, regional, and local governments to major companies such as Tesla, GM, Polestar, and Boeing. 

What’s next: scaling further impact together

Whew! It’s been a busy (and positively impactful) 10 years. But after today’s celebration of our official 10th birthday, that’ll be enough reminiscing in the rearview mirror. We’re far more excited and motivated about the work ahead of us, and the even greater impact we can achieve together. Won’t you join us?

Announcing New API, New Regions, New Data Signals

As WattTime continues to ‘bend the curve’ of emissions reductions, we’re excited to announce the release of our upgraded API (version 3 or v3), which includes new regions and data signals in addition to a more refined and intuitive schema. By expanding to new countries and regions, we’re enabling our partners to bring emissions-reducing technology to a greater global audience. With additional grid signals, we’re able to maximize human health benefits in addition to greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions.  

New API

The v3 API brings many improvements, including more intuitive and descriptive data delivery, error handling, and more. We don't undertake changes to our API lightly. We think the upgrades we've made in API v3 will be well worth the effort, as they will unlock greater opportunities for emissions reductions. We're here to support our partners as they begin using the new API.

New Countries and Regions

We have also released data for 12 new countries, which will only be available in API v3: 

  1. Mexico
  2. Japan (10 regions)
  3. South Korea
  4. Brazil
  5. India
  6. Chile
  7. Peru
  8. Turkey
  9. Malaysia
  10. Nicaragua
  11. Philippines
  12. Singapore

Check out our coverage map to see our full coverage, now with unique map layers for each data signal we offer through the API.

New Data Signals

In addition to CO2, the new API now offers our health damage data signal, which estimates the damage to human life and health caused by emissions from electricity generation based on the time and place that electricity is used. While currently only available in the US, this signal can be used to make decisions that reduce negative impacts on human life and health. IoT and EV companies have already begun using it as an input signal to device scheduling optimization, or to create a UI element advising users when to run appliances or plug in an EV. It can be used in tandem with the marginal operating emissions rate (MOER) to co-optimize device operation to reduce GHG emissions and damage to human health.

We’ve also added an average operating emissions rate (AOER), which is the average emissions rate (in lbs of CO2 per MWh) of all the generators operating at a particular time, weighted by their energy output. Using this signal for load shifting wouldn’t reduce emissions, but many companies find the data helpful for calculating total annual footprint for GHGP Corporate Standard, Scope 2.

To learn more about the different signals we provide, visit our data signals page.

Refined Handling of Real-time and Historical Data

Two of the biggest changes between our v2 and v3 API are our handling of real-time and historical data. 

“Real-time” data (formerly found in both the /v2/data and /v2/index endpoints), used to vary in recency, typically from five minutes old up to six hours. Now, all real-time data is always available within five minutes (in the /v3/forecast endpoint, the first data point applies to the current five-minute period). This provides a single, more reliable place to look for the data that apply to right now.

“Historical” data (formerly found in both the /v2/data and /v2/historical endpoints) used to be created typically within five minutes to six hours, but was never changed or updated after that. Now we’ve designed v3 such that we can still deliver historical data within a few hours (in the /v3/historical endpoint), but we can update those data later if more or better source data for a particular data point become available (data points are not overwritten, but additional points for the same timestamp become available). This allows us to maintain a historical database of emissions data that is more representative of the best available source information.

Transition Resources

We want this transition to be as easy as possible and worth the effort to upgrade. We’ve prepared a number of resources to guide our partners through the transition and help with getting acquainted with the new API, new regions, and new signals. 

  1. Transition Guide for APIv2 -> APIv3
  2. APIv3 documentation
  3. Release notes related to the API, data models, and methodology
  4. Data Signals Overview to explain each of the data types we offer
  5. Methodology & Validation have been updated and expanded

Support Webinar

WattTime will host a Q&A webinar about the new API and new features on Tuesday, January 23, at 11:30 a.m. PST / 2:30 p.m. EST. Learn more and sign up for the webinar here, and if you miss the webinar, the recording will be accessible on-demand using the same page after the event concludes.

API Version 2 Support

API v2 will continue to be supported until June 2024. While your upgrade to API v3 will be optional for approximately the next six months, we encourage you to proactively plan for your transition so that we can support you along the way if needed.

WattTime and its partners celebrate one billion watts of emissionality as more renewable energy buyers prioritize avoided emissions impacts

More renewable energy buyers than ever before are intentionally siting wind and solar projects in locations where they will push more dirty energy off the grid.

Oakland, Calif. — 14 September 2023 — Environmental tech nonprofit WattTime today announced that at least one billion watts of renewable energy have now been procured through an emissionality-based approach. In other words, these wind and solar projects have been selected based partially on their potential to avoid more emissions due to their location and the emissions intensity of the power grid in that region. 

“Clean energy projects only reduce emissions by replacing fossil fuel plants, and siting them in particularly high-emitting, fossil fuel-heavy regions can greatly amplify their climate benefits by pushing dirtier sources of electricity off the grid,” said Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of WattTime. “That’s the power of emissionality — a simple approach that can result in bigger benefits for the planet.” 

This billion watt milestone is based on WattTime’s analysis of both publicly available and additional confidential market information. Partners of the organization which have publicly listed emissionality as part of their renewable energy procurement strategy include SalesforceNucorBoston UniversityClearloop, Rivian, and others. 

Most recently, Rivian and The Nature Conservancy partnered with Brightnight on a project which will transform a Kentucky coal mine into an 800-megawatt solar facility. The site was selected, in part, through an emissionality lens to ensure a heftier decarbonization effect for the grid. 

"In July, Rivian announced a partnership with BrightNight and The Nature Conservancy to be the largest offtaker (100MW) of solar power from phase 1 of the Starfire project in Kentucky — soon to be built at the site of what was once one of the largest coal mines in the US,” said Andrew Peterman, director of renewable energy at Rivian. “We worked closely with The Nature Conservancy to develop a rigorous evaluation framework and set of resources (Power with Purpose) to help select renewable energy projects that prioritize positive benefits for climate, conservation, and communities. WattTime’s analysis and input allowed us to integrate an emissionality-based approach and ensure we were maximizing the climate benefits of our decision.”

Thanks to emissionality, the 14 wind and solar projects included in WattTime’s billion watt milestone will reduce an estimated 10 million tonnes more emissions than they otherwise would have. All of the renewable energy sites included in the analysis are located in coal-heavy regions in the US or overseas. 

“It took years of work with like-minded partners to reach a billion watts of emissionality, but we are now seeing a dramatic acceleration. We estimate the next billion watts may happen in mere months, now that momentum is building at what seems to be an exponential pace and other buyers are catching on,” said McCormick.   

“As a longtime partner of WattTime, together we’ve pioneered the importance of making sure renewable energy projects get more done when it comes to tackling carbon emissions,” said Laura Zapata, CEO and co-founder of Clearloop. “At Clearloop, we’re fully focused on finding innovative ways to fund and launch new solar projects where they can do the most good — both by cleaning up the grid and expanding access to clean energy, as well as investing in underserved American communities. With support from WattTime, we’ve built Clearloop to help organizations of all sizes embrace emissionality as a key grid decarbonization solution.” 

white paper originally drafted in 2009 by Meredith Fowlie at UC Berkeley first floated the concept that one could, in theory, detect where building renewable energy would reduce more emissions, and then deliberately select these locations. McCormick and the WattTime team built on this theory and coined the term emissionality in 2017. 

Today, WattTime works with institutions of all kinds to support them in selecting more impactful projects, whether by providing avoided emissions analysis, connecting them with like-minded groups, or otherwise assisting them in their sustainability efforts. WattTime’s analyses are based on marginal emissions data, which assess the real-world impacts of consuming or generating power at a specific time and location. 

Today’s billion watt milestone includes only projects that evaluated avoided emissions with WattTime data — the details of which were readily available to the analysis team. But WattTime would like to hear about (and celebrate) other renewable energy projects with locations that were chosen because they avoided more emissions.  

To share information about your projects, learn more about emissionality, or discuss renewable energy project selection support, contact the WattTime team here

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About WattTime

WattTime is an environmental tech nonprofit that empowers all people, companies, policymakers, and countries to slash emissions and choose cleaner energy. Founded by UC Berkeley researchers, we develop data-driven tools and policies that increase environmental and social good. During the energy transition from a fossil-fueled past to a zero-carbon future, WattTime ‘bends the curve’ of emissions reductions to realize deeper, faster benefits for people and planet. Learn more at www.WattTime.org

WattTime and ev.energy expand partnership to allow EV drivers to automatically sync charging with cleaner electricity

Palo Alto, Calif. and Oakland, Calif. — 24 August 2023 — Electric vehicle (EV) charging solution provider ev.energy and environmental tech nonprofit WattTime have announced a new phase of their partnership to make driving electric even cleaner. The revamped collaboration will enable the more than 120,000 drivers on the ev.energy platform to charge on the cleanest electricity available on their local grid by intelligently and automatically shifting charging times.

This new capability is made possible thanks to marginal emissions insights from WattTime, which have been fully integrated into the ev.energy managed charging platform. After prior collaboration to develop the current emissions optimization feature in select markets, the expanded partnership takes ev.energy’s emissions reduction feature to the next level — and not just geographically. 

While ev.energy’s mobile app previously shared charging-related emissions information with users and allowed them to manually choose cleaner charging times, the new update allows for complete automation of this process. The ev.energy app now uses AER (automated emissions reduction) technology to strategically charge the EV during times that will cause the lowest emissions, using real-time marginal grid emissions data from WattTime. Typically, this means using surplus renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted.

"Our mission at ev.energy is to connect every EV to the greenest energy available on the grid. Through our partnership with WattTime, we can track the carbon intensity of every charging event that flows over the ev.energy platform, and critically, understand the marginal carbon emissions on the grid at any point in time. Watttime's approach is unique, and we're delighted to be scaling with such a like-minded partner and growing together as we accelerate the transition to a carbon-free grid," said Nick Woolley, CEO of ev.energy. 

ev.energy helps EV drivers save both money and carbon when charging their cars at home. Their mobile app allows drivers to optimize for cost and avoided emissions based on their local electricity grid and rate plan, and can even help drivers optimize their charging around  home solar production. In addition to the 120,000 drivers on ev.energy’s platform, the company works with more than 30 utilities globally to help deliver important grid flexibility services and financial benefits for drivers. 

“I am constantly amazed by the sheer potential for EVs to further reduce emissions by charging when there’s surplus clean energy,” said Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of WattTime. “This growing source of electricity demand has the power to take a huge bite out of global grid emissions. Innovative companies like ev.energy are rapidly moving us closer to a world in which all flexible devices can automatically run on clean energy, and we’re thrilled that they share this vision with us.” 

WattTime provides highly granular marginal emissions datasets, which factor in the time and location of energy consumption to pinpoint real-world emissions impact. This real-time emissions signal allows IoT device companies to deploy AER technology to automatically reduce the emissions caused by smart devices that are flexible on when they use power, from thermostats to EV chargers and beyond. 

For more information on ev.energy and its suite of services, visit https://www.ev.energy/contact

And for more information on WattTime and its data-powered solutions, visit https://www.watttime.org/contact/

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About ev.energy
ev.energy is a Certified B Corporation® with a mission to make EV charging greener, cheaper, and smarter for utilities and their customers. Its end-to-end software platform wirelessly connects to a range of electric vehicles and chargers to intelligently manage EV charging while working with utilities to put cash back in customers’ wallets for charging at grid-friendly times. With a global base of utility, vehicle OEM and EVSE partners, ev.energy manages more than 120,000 EVs on its platform each day. Learn more at https://ev.energy/business.

About WattTime
WattTime is an environmental tech nonprofit that empowers all people, companies, policymakers, and countries to slash emissions and choose cleaner energy. Founded by UC Berkeley researchers, we develop data-driven tools and policies that increase environmental and social good. During the energy transition from a fossil-fueled past to a zero-carbon future, WattTime ‘bends the curve’ of emissions reductions to realize deeper, faster benefits for people and planet. Learn more at www.WattTime.org

Media Contacts
Inflection Point Agency for WattTime
nikki@inflectionpointagency.com

Mission Control Communications for ev.energy
ev.energy@missionC2.com

Amazon Harnesses WattTime to Enable Alexa and Smart Thermostat Users to Reduce GHG Emissions Impacts

Oakland, Calif. — 14 June, 2023 — Environmental tech nonprofit WattTime today announced it is working with Amazon to bring greenhouse gas emissions insights and emission reduction capabilities to the Alexa app and Amazon Smart Thermostat. The Alexa Energy Dashboard now offers emissions insights powered by WattTime. In addition, the Amazon Smart Thermostat can now automatically optimize HVAC energy consumption to align with lower emissions moments on the power grid. 

“We are always searching for those partnerships and applications that will drive more impact faster when it comes to reducing emissions and tipping the climate scales in favor of our planet, and this work with Amazon is a prime example,” said Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of WattTime. “We’re excited to offer simple — and in some cases automatic — tools to help reduce electricity-related emissions impacts. Today’s news is just the beginning when it comes to the difference we can make with collaborations like this.” 

The Alexa Energy Dashboard, housed within the Alexa app, helps users understand their device’s energy consumption. It works with a selection of water heaters and thermostats to help track the usage of devices that consume the most energy. Using historical data aggregated by WattTime, Amazon calculates a median value of CO2 emissions in each user’s area. Looking at estimated carbon dioxide emissions over the course of 24 hours, it categorizes values above that median as “Higher” and below that median as “Lower,” which is then displayed in the dashboard. This data can help users choose when to run their dishwasher, dryer, or other inherently flexible electricity-consuming appliances.

With new improvements to the Amazon Smart Thermostat, emissions reduction capabilities go a step further. Customers in the U.S. can now choose to opt-in to a feature to help limit HVAC use during times when electricity may cause more emissions by having Alexa use estimations provided by WattTime and automatically adjust the temperature by one degree. The Amazon Smart Thermostat’s new feature leverages WattTime’s marginal emissions rates, which assess the real-world impacts of consuming power at a specific time and location. 

"We're very excited about this energy feature update for Amazon Smart Thermostats that enables Alexa to try to reduce a household’s carbon impact proactively," said Maiken Moeller-Hansen, Director of Energy and Sustainability at Amazon. "Now Alexa can automatically adjust temperature set-points to reduce usage during high emission times, based on real-time emissions data from the user’s local power grid." 

For more information on WattTime and its technology, visit www.watttime.org.  

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About WattTime 

WattTime is an environmental tech nonprofit that empowers all people, companies, policymakers, and countries to slash emissions and choose cleaner energy. Founded by UC Berkeley researchers, we develop data-driven tools and policies that increase environmental and social good. During the energy transition from a fossil-fueled past to a zero-carbon future, WattTime ‘bends the curve’ of emissions reductions to realize deeper, faster benefits for people and planet. Learn more at www.WattTime.org.

Media Contact
Nikki Arnone, Inflection Point Agency for WattTime
nikki@inflectionpointagency.com

Is your goal real-world impact? Then use marginal emissions.

Everyone knows you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Less often pointed out? You can’t manage what you measure incorrectly

Corporate net-zero targets are at an all-time high, per reporting from The EconomistIn fact, fully 75% of the world’s largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters have set net-zero by 2050 (or sooner) targets, as of an October 2022 benchmarking analysis by Climate Action 100. This is good news.

Or… it should be. Of course, these targets will only genuinely decarbonize the atmosphere if they measure the real thing. And, unfortunately, that’s not always what happens.

From South Korea to Europe to the United States, corporations are under more scrutiny for potential greenwashing than at any other time in recent memory. 

At WattTime, we care about this not because we care about catching bad guys. In our experience, the vast majority of corporate emissions miscounting is a genuinely well-meaning mistake. But such scrutiny is also good news nonetheless. Why? Because it is forcing corporations to re-examine their sustainability efforts to better align with true impact that corresponds to real-world emissions reductions, not merely on-paper-only green claims.

And as companies allocate growing sustainability budgets, a heightened focus on actual impact empowers them to identify and pursue strategies that yield the highest real-world decarbonization return on investment (ROI) — and, reciprocally, to avoid strategies that cause a real-world increase in total global emissions.

Using the Right Math Matters

How companies measure the emissions they cause and which math they use to do so matters. A lot. That’s because, let’s face it, climate change is starting to claim lives. And the only thing that will save lives is impact — whether and how much a company’s actions genuinely cause total global emissions to go up, down, or stay the same.

Historically, much carbon accounting was done in terms of average emissions factors (AEFs). AEFs take the overall electricity generation mix for any given power grid, then apply it to a specific company’s load for their facilities. This was a fine solution in the early days, when carbon accounting didn’t actually do much, and most companies were not taking meaningful real-world actions based on these emissions factors. 

Times have changed. Today, companies are actually meeting GHG targets, optimizing their actions, and taking sustainability seriously. This is fantastic news, but it means that today, the connection between carbon accounting and reality actually matters.  

But there’s one big problem. AEFs are the wrong math for measuring impact, because they ignore the basic physics of how power grids operate — including how power grids respond to various influences. Using AEFs assumes that all generation sources on a power grid equally share in outcomes. They don’t. Nuclear power plants are not going to turn on and off in response to what one electricity user does. Neither will always-on baseload plants.

Moreover, simply making AEFs more granular, such as hourly, doesn’t solve the problem, either, because it still ignores fundamental power grid operations.

When a company chooses to site a new facility (and its electricity load) — a data center, a factory, a new corporate campus — in a particular region because that region has a “green” power grid… When a fleet of electric vehicles (EVs) uses smart charging to modulate when those EVs do and don’t charge… When smart thermostats and building energy management systems modulate the flexible portion of a commercial building’s electricity demand to shift load across hours… 

All of these and other examples don’t impact the entire generation mix. Most of the power grid’s generation stack merrily chugs along unaffected, blissfully unaware of these influences.

But the common corporate decarbonization strategies mentioned above do impact a specific subset of generators that respond to the corresponding increases or decreases in electricity demand. It’s precisely these generators — and their emissions — that matter for understanding impact.

They are known as marginal generators. Their associated emissions intensity is known as the marginal emissions factor (MEF). And their emissions are the marginal emissions: those emissions that specifically result from marginal units responding (e.g., turning on, ramping up) in order to meet the next incremental megawatt of electricity demand.

If a company chooses to site a new facility in a particular power grid, it’s the marginal units that must meet that demand — and therefore, the marginal emissions that best measure the impact of that load-siting decision. If a smart thermostat or EV charging software shifts the timing of power demand, it’s the marginal units that are impacted — and also therefore, the associated increase or decrease in marginal emissions that best measure the impact of that load shifting.

The temptation to use AEFs is understandable: they are widely available and the calculations are easy to run.  But this is a well-established area of research. Scientists and grid experts agree that AEFs do not accurately measure impact. The GHG Protocol is clear that one may not use AEFs to measure avoided emissions; rather, they specify use of MEFs for such Scope 2 calculations. The list goes on and on.

Widespread Agreement to Use MEFs for Impact Assessment

More than a decade of robust research and widespread agreement among scientists and grid experts support using MEFs as the right way to measure the environmental impact of electricity system interventions. For example:

Here at WattTime, we’re strong advocates for measuring whatever will affect real-world total emissions. In electricity, that means MEFs. (Within our datasets, they’re referred to as MOERs: marginal operating emissions rates. You can read more about our perspective in our 2022 insight brief about impact accounting.)

In the wake of the UN IPCC’s AR6 final synthesis report about the climate crisis — underscoring the need for rapid, deep decarbonization of the global economy — none of us can afford to base decisions, and impact assessments, on faulty math. We need to make authentic progress reducing global emissions. And for that, we need to use marginal emissions data to honestly and accurately reflect how power grids actually respond to the strategies we implement.

You can't avoid emissions without additionality

To beat climate change, humanity needs to massively expand the global supply of renewable electricity to rapidly wean our power grids off existing fossil-fueled power plants. Here at WattTime, our goal is to support and cheer on anyone aiming to build those renewables in ways that drive more impact, faster. We call this “emissionality.”

We’re perhaps best known for pointing out that you can drive more impact by building new renewables in areas where each new clean kilowatt-hour replaces a greater amount of dirty fossil-fueled marginal emissions. But we recently received a gentle critique that we think is a good and fair point: why has WattTime never said much about additionality? 

After all, using data to invest in and build renewables where there are higher marginal emissions rates doesn’t much matter if you’re not building new renewable capacity in the first place. Which is the main thrust of additionality. You can’t avoid emissions without additionality.

Using emissions data can help multiply the beneficial impacts of building new renewables via an emissionality approach, but it’s nothing without the additionality foundation. In the absence of additionality, quantifying avoided emissions amounts to multiplying by zero. Additionality is a key part of emissionality, and the former is more important than ever in 2023.

GHG Accounting and Impact Are Misaligned

Scope 2 of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol) — covering the emissions associated with purchased electricity, along with how to account for renewable energy procurement — has been a key tool for driving corporate investment in renewables. But the protocol has a glaring hole.

Currently, a corporation can technically reduce their GHG Protocol carbon footprint without necessarily achieving a corresponding reduction in atmospheric emissions. In other words, they can decarbonize themselves on paper, without actually moving the decarbonizing needle for the world in reality.

As climate analyst Kumar Venkat explains in a recent column, with current GHG Protocol Scope 2 accounting methodologies, "if some businesses reduce their carbon footprints, then others will be saddled with higher footprints (this is explicit in the market-based accounting rules for electricity purchases and is implicit in other cases such as material purchases in the value chain).” This flawed approach means sustainability teams waste precious time, energy, and resources shuffling around claimed responsibility for emissions, without necessarily causing global emissions to actually go down.

Additionality Keeps the Focus on Impact

While some companies might procure renewable energy for purely economic reasons — such as for a fixed-price economic hedge to guard against energy price volatility — most corporations are going green with their energy as a way to reduce their own emissions and help move the world toward net-zero.

Making progress toward global net-zero emissions comes down to two fundamental questions: 1) Did we CAUSE MORE renewable energy to get built (vs. merely taking credit for something that was already there and/or taking credit for renewables that would have been built anyway, with or without your action)? 2) HOW MUCH fossil emissions did the extra clean renewable energy we caused displace? This brings us back to the fundamental importance of additionality: if we aren’t first causing more renewable energy to get built, the second question regarding avoided emissions becomes pretty irrelevant.

We begin to address the latter issue in our recent Impact Accounting whitepaper. In it, we call for the GHG Protocol to more-directly measure the Scope 2 emissions benefit of different interventions, such as renewables procurement, instead of counting proxy megawatt-hours. Merely adding additional attributes and/or granularity to unbundled renewable energy certificates (RECs) is insufficient.

But this is just half of the equation. The other critical missing feature for better-aligning with real world impact is an assessment of whether the reporting organization caused those interventions. In other words, did they have a material impact on the additionality of interventions such as renewable energy capacity. 

Additionality must be present for an organization to have an authentic impact on global emissions. Using good marginal emissions data allows us to amplify and optimize those impacts via emissionality-style strategies.

How RECs Lost Their Way and Divorced From Additionality

So why are we having a renewed conversation about additionality? The current GHG Protocol Scope 2 market-based method defines a purchasing mechanism that allows corporations to reduce their GHG footprint by retiring energy attribute certificates (EACs) like RECs and guarantees of origin (GOs). And so it follows that EACs have become the accepted “proof of purchase receipt” for green energy.

When EACs were first created, this made sense because renewable energy was rare and came with a significant price premium, and so essentially all renewable energy projects were additional. But a lot has changed since then.

Partly because the market-based standard defined EACs as the primary mechanism to reduce an organization's footprint, companies began purchasing EACs in volume. For example, in the U.S. the voluntary REC market roughly tripled during the decade 2010–2020. This is good news for the planet. BUT, unbundled RECs have comprised the largest share of that market, and there has been growing recognition and criticism that unbundled EACs alone are far too often not actually causing new renewable energy to be built. By extension, they also too often don’t genuinely represent material emissions reductions.

Of course, in 2023 unbundled EACs are not the only mechanism organizations use to procure renewable energy. There are now a diversity of procurement options, including both direct / physical and virtual power purchase agreements (PPAs) as well as utility green tariffs. Not all of these renewable energy procurement options have the same impact on renewable energy development. This is why more and more corporations are shifting to power purchase agreements to procure renewable energy, as they are generally accepted to have a systematically higher level of additionality.

Additionality Comes Back Into Focus

And so, additionality has become a goal or prerequisite for many organizations pursuing authentic action that drives investment in new renewable energy. For example, it is a prerequisite in Salesforce’s procurement approach, which the company articulated in its 2018 Clean Energy Strategy and its October 2020 white paper More Than A Megawatt

"The purpose of our 100% Renewable Energy program is to increase the proportion of renewable energy on the grid. Therefore, we only count new renewable energy generation that we’ve helped catalyze or that our suppliers have catalyzed on our behalf. Often this means providing enough financial certainty to a project's developer or financier to guarantee the return on investment necessary to justify large upfront capital investment."

Google also acknowledges the importance of additionality in its 24x7 approach to renewable energy procurement.

"To ensure that Google is the driver for bringing new clean energy onto the grid, we insist that all projects be “additional.” This means that we seek to purchase energy from not-yet-constructed generation facilities that will be built above and beyond what’s required by existing energy regulations."

At WattTime, we’ve concluded a key barrier holding back more organizations from following suit is that — let’s face it — precisely and accurately quantifying additionality can be difficult. We have rarely brought it up because we didn’t have answers ourselves. But we’ve come to agree with the many organizations who have been saying that we as a field must find some reasonable, objective way to quantify it. 

One reason for doing so is because, in reality, various parties each have partial claims to any given project and its additionality... the renewable energy developer, the bank / financier, the corporate offtaker, the tax equity investor, and the REC purchaser.

But perhaps more important, doing so can also pave the way for EACs to once again map to real-world impact. Renewable energy is part of a blended supply chain of electrons, in which "good" and "bad" inputs get mixed and spat out the other end without differentiation. Yet the market needs a mechanism and signal for buyers to show (and pay for) demand for "clean" versions of the “thing.” That's where book-and-claim approaches, such as EACs, come into play. We need a way for the voluntary market to continue sending signals, while having those signals better map to REAL impact.

A Path Forward on EACs and Additionality

WattTime’s expertise is in measuring the effect a change in energy consumption or generation has on emissions from the electricity sector. There are going to be other organizations that do a better job than us at quantifying additionality. But we view the success of this work as fundamental to what we and so many others really care about: seeing atmospheric emissions go down in reality. So, we’ve been working hard at figuring out who can get the job done, and what it might take. 

To do it, we’ve been having an increasing number of conversations with renewables developers to understand what drives the construction of new renewable energy and therefore who takes credit for getting projects built.

Most seem to agree with what the team from Schneider Electric wrote in a white paper for Smart Energy Decisions“Most renewable energy projects cannot be financed and built without a secured, creditworthy off-taker like a utility or corporation… which makes the role of additionality very straightforward: without that long-term commitment, the project wouldn’t get built.”

The world is no longer so black and white. GHG Protocol should recognize that additionality is a spectrum. All EACs are not equal. Procurement mechanisms and project specifics cause different effects on development, but this is currently obscured, in part because the GHG Protocol treats all EACs equally under current methodology — whether bundled as part of a PPA, required in a regulatory environment, or unbundled.

On this front, progress is being made to assess impact empirically and create more transparency for offtakers. For example, we’ve seen a few proposals that try to quantify this differential impact of various procurement options. RMI has proposed a “procurement factor” that could be used to compare the value different procurement options provide to renewable energy projects.

We are intrigued by this proposed methodology because it shifts from a binary test for additionality towards a spectrum that different procurement actions would fall on. The European Union recently released rules for renewable hydrogen that only allow renewable energy developed onsite or through a PPA and recently constructed and unsubsidized to count towards compliance with the rules. We encourage other organizations to explore these approaches to additionality as well as provide potential alternative additionality tests. 

Implications for Decarbonizing Other Sectors Beyond Electricity

The certificate question has broader implications beyond electricity accounting as well. Today, other sectors are considering implementing market measures for accounting, including steelaviation fuelshipping, and natural gas. These could potentially be powerful new mechanisms in the fight against climate change. But only if we can learn from the past and design them better this time to ensure authenticity.

Before the GHG Protocol considers allowing certificates in these sectors in addition to electricity, they should understand how certificates and procurement options drive development of new clean resources and ensure they are not just rearranging who is responsible for emissions with no actual net reduction in global atmospheric emissions. 

Overall, we think that Scope 2, if it retains the market-based method in some form or expands market mechanisms to other scopes, must include some assessment of whether the organization’s action caused the reported reduction in emissions inventory. For Scope 2 and EACs we put out a call to the industry to suggest potential tests. 

Henry Richardson is a senior analyst at WattTime. Please contact Henry if you have questions, comments, critiques, or proposals regarding additionality.

Hourly carbon data enables smarter emissions decisions for industrial operations

Hourly carbon data partnership between Ndustrial and WattTime allows companies to drive authentic emissions reductions

RALEIGH, NC AND OAKLAND, CA – March. 14, 2023 – Ndustrial has announced it is incorporating hourly carbon emissions data from WattTime into its Nsight™ Energy Intensity Platform to enable smarter emissions decisions for its industrial customer base.

“Most companies measure their greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis,” says Ndustrial’s Founder and CEO Jason Massey, “but that doesn’t account for the fact that using electricity can have vastly different emissions impacts at different times of day. Our platform will now highlight these variations.”

Marginal emissions data measures the real-world consequences of consuming electricity at a certain time and location within an ever-changing power grid. Availability of hourly marginal carbon emissions data for local electricity grids around the world now allows companies to achieve bigger carbon reductions and better quantify the emissions impacts of their actions.

Ndustrial helps businesses drive down Energy Intensity, reduce energy costs and increase sustainable operations. One way customers drive down energy spend is by responding to Nsight’s real-time suggestions to avoid critical peak periods via peak avoidance algorithms and demand response signals.

Through the partnership with WattTime, Ndustrial’s Nsight™ Energy Intensity Platform can now incorporate estimates of the avoided carbon emissions expected from various operational suggestions. During peak periods of demand on the grid, for example, users may see substantial cost savings as well as carbon emissions savings from curtailing or shifting the time of their energy use. All of this can be scheduled hours in advance, with a 72-hour forecast of emissions rates.

In addition to the operational insights enabled by hourly marginal emissions rates, Nsight will use hourly average emissions rates for more granular Scope 2 emissions accounting. The most commonly used emissions accounting approach relies on an annual emissions rate from the EPA that is almost two years stale by the time it is published. Nsight will provide an emissions accounting option that is up to date throughout the year, is no more than a few days old, and shows variation throughout the day.

Many leading companies are leveraging marginal emissions data from WattTime to accelerate the electric grid’s transition to zero carbon. WattTime is an environmental tech nonprofit founded by UC Berkeley researchers to increase environmental and social good. Through this partnership, Ndustrial and WattTime will empower a new and large portion of the industrial sector to make faster climate progress.

“Industrial companies are some of the biggest consumers of electricity out there, so they have a huge opportunity to help bring down global emissions simply by making smart choices about when they use that power,” said Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of WattTime. “This partnership with Ndustrial is an exciting opportunity for us to help their sizable client base bring down global emissions at scale, fast.”

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About Ndustrial
Ndustrial exists to accelerate the optimization of Energy Intensity in industrial facilities and has helped avoid over $100 million in energy spend. Their production-first approach helps clients find – and automate – the energy-saving opportunities that make sense for them. Their Energy Intensity platform integrates over 40 different systems into a single view, processing over 100 million data points every day to enable smarter energy decisions in real time. Ndustrial’s motto, “We help you find energy,” focuses the team to drive down Energy Intensity, decrease costs and increase sustainable operations inside the walls of every industrial facility. Learn more at ndustrial.io.

About WattTime
WattTime is an environmental tech nonprofit that empowers all people, companies, policymakers, and countries to slash emissions and choose cleaner energy. Founded by UC Berkeley researchers, we develop data-driven tools and policies that increase environmental and social good. During the energy transition from a fossil-fueled past to a zero-carbon future, WattTime ‘bends the curve’ of emissions reductions to realize deeper, faster benefits for people and planet. Learn more at www.WattTime.org.

How Salesforce used emissionality to inform its groundbreaking D-Recs procurement

Less than two weeks ago at a sold out GreenBiz 23, tech giant Salesforce announced the procurement of 280,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy certificates. But this was not your classic announcement of large-scale clean energy secured through long-term contracts such as power purchase agreements (PPAs) — often focused on renewables projects in North America — which have continued to set new records year over year.

Instead, Salesforce set its sights on “high-impact renewables” in emerging markets such as Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. They partnered with Powertrust to source Distributed Renewable Energy Certificates (D-RECs), a financial mechanism that enables organizations to accelerate deployment of capital for small-scale, distributed renewable projects.

Renewables procurement with social impact

D-REC projects can have important social impacts, by helping alleviate energy poverty through financing of projects that focus on electrifying schools, hospitals, and small businesses in less-developed and under-electrified regions of the world.

For example, in India, one Salesforce-connected project will build a solar-powered microgrid in Nagaland, an eastern state in India, for the first time bringing electricity to an isolated mountain community.

For another, in Sub-Saharan Africa, a solar-and-storage installation at a hospital will help improve electricity reliability while controlling rising electricity costs. The system will power ventilators, organ support equipment, and operating rooms.

Overall, these and other projects like that are designed to deliver on UN Sustainable Development Goals related to climate resilience (goals 9 and 11), universal energy access (goal 7), and gender equality (goal 5).

Putting emissionality into practice

Looking beyond North America to source renewable energy can also have a magnified beneficial impact on global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, by displacing fossil-fueled generation on dirtier grids around the world. It’s a procurement strategy known as emissionality, which Powertrust calls out as one of their four pillars. They identify “grids with the highest emissions factors and deliver projects that are positioned to have the greatest potential to reduce carbon emissions in the region.”

Case in point from the recent Salesforce announcement: a project in Brazil will replace old, dirty diesel generators with a solar-powered microgrid for a remote community along the Amazon River, reducing fuel consumption by more than 50% while slashing emissions.

This was not Salesforce’s first experience with emissionality. In late 2020, the company unveiled a strategic shift in its approach to renewable energy procurement, captured in the white paper More Than A Megawatt: Embedding Social & Environmental Impact in the Renewable Energy Procurement Process.

“As a company, we’ve been taking a hard look at what makes ‘the best’ renewable energy project,” explained Megan Lorenzen at the time. She’s a senior sustainability manager at Salesforce. “Purchasing renewable energy is about much more than adding new megawatts of renewable energy to the grid. It's about improving the state of the world, which includes considering a number of factors such as land use impacts, wildlife impacts, equity issues, community benefits, and WattTime’s emissionality work, which spans both avoided emissions from a climate perspective and human health considerations for air pollution.”

The time is now for renewables procurement to do more

Salesforce’s leadership on this front comes at a time when corporate renewable procurement can and must do more to help actually reduce global emissions, and not merely “zero out” a company’s GHG emissions footprint on paper.

Beyond North America and Europe, we’re seeing alarming examples of a potential rise in dirty fossil-fueled electricity generation. Pakistan is considering quadrupling its coal-fired power generation in a move away from natural gas, per Reuters, a move that comes ironically and tragically in the wake of devastating flooding worsened by climate change. India says it might build 28 GW of new coal power plants by 2032 to meet that country’s growing electricity demand.

Last year saw record levels of fossil fuel subsidies, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Most were applied in developing or ‘emerging market’ economies. The two largest categories of fossil fuel subsidies were in electricity (#1) and natural gas (#2).

A global approach to corporate renewables procurement — and especially one that incorporates an emissionality lens — can unlock dual climate and social benefits, helping to stem the tide of a pendulum swing back toward emissions-intensive fossil-fueled electricity generation.

Yes, renewable energy buildout via capacity additions worldwide has “unprecedented  momentum.” Global renewable power capacity is now expected to grow by 2,400 gigawatts (GW) over the 2022–2027 period, an amount equal to the entire power capacity of China today, according to IEA’s Renewables 2022. 
But the real impact metric will be not how many GW of clean generation get built, but rather how much fossil emissions it displaces and how many lives are beneficially impacted. Emissionality can help those same GW of renewable energy do more. Salesforce’s example is a promising start.

WattTime unveils new health-focused power grid emissions signal, partners with Toyota and Lexus for first implementation

Oakland, Calif. — January 11, 2023 — Environmental tech nonprofit WattTime and Toyota Motor North America (Toyota) today announced a partnership enabling electric vehicle (EV) drivers to further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and human health impacts from vehicles. The ECO Charging feature integrated into Toyota and Lexus apps as part of Remote Connect is currently available for customers with eligible plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).

“Through our partnership with WattTime, we are providing customers an easy and accessible way to identify when they can charge their vehicle while also helping reduce environmental impacts,” said Steve Basra, group vice president, Connected Technologies, Toyota Motor North America.

WattTime’s emissions data provides the information necessary for smart devices such as EVs and thermostats to align their energy usage with moments of cleaner energy and avoid moments of dirtier energy. This is possible because not all power plants are on or running at full capacity at all times. More- and less-emitting power plants turn on or off, or ramp up or down, at different times. 

Until now, WattTime’s emissions data has focused solely on timing energy use to moments when power plants produce less carbon emissions. Today’s announcement signals a new way for WattTime data to be used to reduce the human health impacts of electricity consumption, specifically for owners of EVs. This is particularly important for disadvantaged communities where high-emission power plants are clustered in a particular area, thereby causing a disproportionate burden to those communities.

For example, on the New York grid, ramping up a power plant upstate can cause significantly less harm to people’s lungs than getting the same amount of electricity from all the fossil-fueled peaker plants in the middle of Queens, where the power plants — and their emissions — are surrounded by densely populated communities.

“The key is knowing which power plants will respond — which will turn on or off — based on when people use electricity,” explained Gavin McCormick, founder and executive director of WattTime. “Now, Toyota and Lexus EV owners can use their app to prioritize charging during moments that better protect people’s lungs. We are thrilled to be launching this updated application to multiply the good work the innovators at Toyota have already done in slashing pollution.”

The Toyota and Lexus app software, as part of the Remote Connect ECO Charging feature, combines the customer’s own charging needs with electricity emissions data from WattTime to propose a charging schedule that is likely to reduce both the health impacts and carbon emissions of charging with electricity from the grid.

Even before emissions-optimized charging, EVs cause less pollution than traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles. Smart charging powered by WattTime’s emissions data can increase that beneficial impact even further to make EVs up to 20% cleaner annually versus normal charging, according to a 2019 WattTime analysis. Those emissions reductions and cleaner air can benefit both people and planet.

“Our electrified vehicle customers select our vehicles not only to enjoy a best-in-class customer experience, but also to make a positive impact on our environment and society,” said James George, general manager, Toyota EV Charging Solutions. “We will continue to provide solutions both now and in the future in support of Toyota’s goal of creating a carbon neutral society.”  

Eligible Toyota vehicles include PHEVs such as the Prius Prime and RAV4 Prime, as well as BEVs such as the bZ4X, which debuted in North America as the global automaker’s first pure battery EV. Lexus’ all-new RZ 450e BEV will go on sale early this year. In addition, Lexus offers PHEV options in the NX 450h+ and the forthcoming RX 450h+. 

About WattTime
WattTime is an environmental tech nonprofit that empowers all people, companies, policymakers, and countries to easily and effectively supercharge emissions reductions from electricity use. Founded by UC Berkeley researchers, we develop data-driven insights, software, and tools that multiply the beneficial impact of clean energy solutions and slash emissions from fossil-fueled electricity. For more information visit www.watttime.org

About Toyota 
Toyota (NYSE:TM) has been a part of the cultural fabric in the U.S. for more than 60 years, and is committed to advancing sustainable, next-generation mobility through our Toyota and Lexus brands, plus our nearly 1,500 dealerships. 

Toyota directly employs more than 39,000 people in the U.S. who have contributed to the design, engineering, and assembly of nearly 32 million cars and trucks at our nine manufacturing plants. By 2025, Toyota’s 10th plant in North Carolina will begin to manufacture automotive batteries for electrified vehicles.  With the more electrified vehicles on the road than any other automaker, a quarter of the company’s 2021 U.S. sales were electrified.

To help inspire the next generation for a career in STEM-based fields, including mobility, Toyota launched its virtual education hub at www.TourToyota.com with an immersive experience and chance to virtually visit many of our U.S. manufacturing facilities. The hub also includes a series of free STEM-based lessons and curriculum through Toyota USA Foundation partners, virtual field trips and more.

For more information about Toyota, visit www.ToyotaNewsroom.com.

About Lexus
Lexus’ passion for brave design, imaginative technology, and exhilarating performance enables the luxury lifestyle brand to create amazing experiences for its customers. Lexus began its journey in 1989 with two luxury sedans and a commitment to pursue perfection. Since then, Lexus has developed its lineup to meet the needs of global luxury customers in more than 90 countries. In the United States, Lexus vehicles are sold through 244 dealers offering a full lineup of luxury vehicles. With six models incorporating Lexus Hybrid Drive, Lexus is the luxury hybrid leader. Lexus also offers eight F SPORT models and one F performance model. Lexus is committed to being a visionary brand that anticipates the future for luxury customers.

WattTime Media Contact
Nikki Arnone, Inflection Point Agency for WattTime
nikki@inflectionpointagency.com 

Toyota/Lexus Media Contact
Josh Burns
Joshua.Burns@Toyota.com