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.

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.

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.

INSIGHT BRIEF: Accounting for impact: Refocusing GHG Protocol scope 2 methodology on ‘impact accounting’

The GHG Protocol (GHGP) — the world’s leading source of carbon accounting standards — has motivated sweeping clean energy investments and carbon reduction or neutrality goals from corporations and institutions worldwide. But are the emissions reductions currently being counted on paper actually translating into real-world environmental impact?

In WattTime’s Accounting for Impact report, we explore the GHGP’s current methods for measuring Scope 2 emissions and propose a new methodology to better align traditional GHG accounting with science-based decision-making tools. Our proposed solution focuses on measuring actual induced emissions caused by electricity consumption and the avoided emissions impact of renewable energy generation using marginal emissions rates. This approach can more effectively and consistently capture what GHG accounting ultimately should be about: measuring progress toward system-wide emissions reductions. By refocusing GHGP’s Scope 2 methodology toward this goal using impact accounting, corporate and institutional sustainability leaders can arrive at higher-impact choices and investments that help them reach a true state of ‘impact neutral’.

Learn more by reading the full report here:
Accounting for Impact: Refocusing GHG Protocol Scope 2 methodology on ‘impact accounting’

WHITE PAPER: To Drive More Authentic Impact, Faster, Look at the Consequences of Your Choices and Actions

Let’s face it. The latest UN International Panel on Climate Change report is grim. Our planet is in real trouble.

But as the sheer magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis becomes ever clearer, we at WattTime see one piece of real genuine hope on the horizon. Over the past year, there has been a quiet sea change in corporations and other institutions starting to ask what the true emissions benefits of their strategies, investments, and actions are. 

Because it is so critical that organizations succeed in this important goal, we are proud to partner with the other leading global provider of highly detailed electricity emissions data, in writing a new joint briefing on this issue. Together with Tomorrow, the folks who created Electricity Map, we’re jointly releasing A vision for how ambitious organizations can accurately measure electricity emissions to take genuine action. We focus specifically on the emissions associated with electricity, commonly referred to as Scope 2 emissions in GHG reporting.

What’s in the briefing? Long story short: to measure GHG emissions from electricity, organizations somewhat surprisingly face two different questions. And spoiler alert: one of those questions is more important than the other when it comes to measuring true impact and achieving larger system-wide emissions reductions sooner. Those two questions are:

At first glance, these might appear to be variations on the same question. But answering them accurately requires using two different frameworks: the attributional framework (answering the first question) and the consequential framework (answering the second). And it turns out that the seemingly subtle difference between these two frameworks actually really matters.

The attributional framework (most often associated with the scope emissions in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard) accounts for an entity’s emissions inventory or footprint. It essentially focuses on assigning responsibility for emissions to different institutions.

But it doesn’t always provide as much insight on how to fix climate change. Because by relentlessly focusing on only the emissions that a company “owns”, the attributional framework can leave us blind to the effect of one organization’s actions on actual global emissions outside of that organization’s boundary. That’s where the consequential framework comes in.

The consequential framework quantifies the actual emissions impact of different actions or interventions, allowing organizations to optimize their investments to achieve greater real-world emissions reductions. Whether it’s deciding when to use electricity, where to site a wind farm, or even adopting energy efficiency measures, these choices affect other grid users, too. So, when one is looking at emissions data and deciding what to do, whether one considers the global emissions effect or not can actually heavily change what strategies look best.

Consider a company that is based in a grid powered entirely by natural gas. If it moved part of its operation to a grid that is powered 2/3 by nuclear, and 1/3 by coal, what happened to its emissions? From an attributional perspective, it has lowered its own carbon footprint because it has the right to claim a share of that clean nuclear energy in its carbon accounting. But from a consequential perspective, will the nuclear power plants change their output to accommodate the newcomer? Not likely. It’s the coal plants that will ramp up to power the newcomer. So total global emissions will actually go up, not down. 

“Only one thing will stop climate change: if all of us collectively somehow find a way to lower total global emissions by about 36 billion tons of CO2 each year. The fact is, my avoided emissions help you and yours help me. And optimizing sustainability strategies to measure and maximize the emissions consequences of our actions for everyone, doesn’t just affect our own individual inventories, it can often make it possible for sustainability teams to generate around 2 to 3 times as much real-world emissions savings for the same total cost and effort,” said Gavin McCormick, WattTime Executive Director.

When measuring electricity emissions, the GHG Protocol stipulates that companies must report their inventory using the attributional framework (e.g. GHGP Corporate Standard), and may also report their avoided emissions using the consequential framework (e.g. GHGP Project Protocol). At Tomorrow and WattTime, we recommend measuring and reporting both while seeking to utilize the most scientifically sound methods available to do so. The consequential framework can help organizations maximize the real world emissions benefit of their actions.

"Attributional and consequential methods are both necessary for managing responsibility, yet to date attributional methods have been the dominant focus for companies' GHG reporting," explains Matthew Brander, senior lecturer in carbon accounting at the University of Edinburgh. "But in today's day and age, corporations are increasingly focused on ensuring that their actions and investments achieve bigger and faster emissions reductions, not just for their own carbon footprint, but for the system as a whole. That's where consequential methods can add real insight to their strategies."

"Consequential and attributional accounting are complicated concepts that are sometimes conflated," added Olivier Corradi, founder and CEO of Tomorrow. "Given the recently increased ambitions of major organisations and governments, we felt the urge to create a document that acts as a guide for organisations that want to drive real and tangible impact. It felt important to partner up with WattTime in order to have a strong and unified voice on the topic."

To learn more, please download the white paper.

Building Owners & Controls Providers: Help Us Clean Up The Great Lakes

In the coming months, WattTime, with the Great Lakes Protection Fund, UC Berkeley, and other partners, will be rolling out a pilot program to test the deployment of enhanced demand response programs throughout the Great Lakes Region. As a part of this pilot, we’re seeking a small group of commercial building owners who want to be able to choose clean energy in real-time, automatically. As early adopters for the program, you’ll gain this capability at no cost with just a software update to your existing control system. If your building is in a state that touches one of the Great Lakes (or your commercial HVAC/building controls company serves those buildings), you may be eligible.

WattTime lets you choose where your power comes from

WattTime invented automated emissions reduction (AER) to give electricity users the ability to choose the source of their power. WattTime measures the real-time emissions of your local power grid to determine how clean or dirty the responding generator is at the moment you flip on a switch. The answer can change every five minutes. Using WattTime’s forecast, your devices, homes, and buildings can automatically shift energy use to the cleanest moments throughout the day. AER is in use today by many devices like EV chargers, batteries, thermostats, appliances, smart plugs, and more. So if you want to be able to choose whether you use clean or dirty electricity, now you can, by using AER (learn more about AER).

Buildings can reduce Great Lakes pollution

Since 2015, WattTime and GLPF have been working to eliminate mercury and other pollution from the power sector by providing a powerful economic signal which will encourage clean energy generation and hasten the early retirement of dirty coal plants. Buildings are the next key piece of this puzzle. We’re scaling up the impact of our technology beyond EV charging and smart devices by expanding our capability to include commercial HVAC.

Early next year, WattTime will run a pilot demonstration of AER in a commercial building and measure the pollution reduction potential (a collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Center for the Built Environment). We will then share the results with utilities in the Great Lakes region (eg. ComEd, Xcel Energy, Great River Energy, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy) and beyond, in support of new incentive programs which will make AER more widely available.

The commercial building pilot is an important step towards bringing clean energy choice to everyone. By choosing cleaner energy for our homes and businesses, our collective action will add up to drastic reductions in pollution. For example, our two-phase project could lead to the elimination of 269 pounds of mercury annually in the Great Lakes region. We’ve previously discussed why reducing mercury pollution in the Great Lakes region is so important for health outcomes.

But why do we care? 

Health and environmental justice are intertwined, with the COVID-19 epidemic making that connection ever more stark and clear. With over a million deaths from the virus worldwide, we must not forget that health in lower-income communities is disproportionately affected not only by viruses, but by local environmental pollution which puts these populations at greater risk to increasingly frequent and coincident disasters.

New research from the State University of New York and ProPublica, as well as The New York Times, suggests that areas with bad air pollution have higher rates of COVID-19. Meanwhile, EPA enforcement has been cut back during the pandemic, leading to spikes in toxic emissions in some areas. Another recent study showed that asthma hospitalizations dropped in Kentucky after coal-fired power plants went offline.

This project focuses a lens on harmful pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants, because every state that touches the Great Lakes has an interest in keeping their people safe with clean air and water. And, as the people who are directly impacted, we—and our buildings—can do something to help. 

HERE'S HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED

Building Partners

We’re partnering with building owners and property managers who want a choice about where their power comes from. Choosing to use AER is a choice to use cleaner electricity. AER will automatically make small adjustments to reduce your emissions throughout the day, all year long. Sign up today.

Benefits

  • Gain capability to flex energy usage based on your choice of clean or dirty energy
  • Ability to reduce your pollution footprint, contributing to your environmental goals (and improving local health outcomes)
  • Get reports on your pollution reductions (CO2, mercury, SO2, and NOx)
  • A case study highlighting your building which you can share with your tenants and industry peers (if desired)

What will be needed from you?

  • Introduce WattTime to your HVAC and building controls provider(s)
  • Ask your controls provider for AER functionality for your existing system (no cost to you, and no new hardware to be installed)
  • Provide feedback about the experience during the pilot (early 2021)

Controls Partners

We’re also partnering with building controls companies (e.g. automation, HVAC, lighting, analytics) who are interested in providing their customers the power to choose cleaner electricity. Contact us if you’d like to discuss the details.

Benefits

  • Reach new commercial building customers, based on environmental value proposition
  • Add value to your existing customers without adding any new hardware
  • Further enhance load flexibility/optimization features with help from Watttime and CBE
  • AER capability will give you access to upcoming utility programs for enhanced Demand Response
  • Appear as a featured partner in our case study

What will be needed from you?

  • Pull real-time data from WattTime by API
  • Incorporate this signal into your operational optimization
  • Provide operational data back to WattTime for evaluation

How coronavirus exposed the importance of marginal emissions

Roughly nine months into the global coronavirus pandemic, much has been written about the temporary—and potentially lasting—emissions reductions that have come along with stay-at-home orders and a deep economic recession. DNV GL’s recently released Energy Transitions Outlook 2020 forecasts 75 gigatons of avoided CO2 emissions through 2050, mostly thanks to a big slump in energy demand that resets the trajectory of annual global emissions.

But a closer look at power grids and how they responded to falling demand shows that there’s more to the story—with implications for how we think about more-effective ways for slashing the emissions associated with our energy use.

WattTime analyst Christy Lewis focused her spotlight on the greater New York City metropolitan area of downstate New York, one of the early hotspots for COVID-19 in the United States. The New York City metro area—currently hosting its annual Climate Week—was hit hard and went into aggressive lockdown. What happened next in that region of the NYISO power grid was revealing.

Let’s zoom in to late March and early April 2020. Although just six months ago on the calendar, in ‘coronavirus time,’ that feels like it was eons ago. For context, the week spanning the March-April transition was also precisely when public interest in Netflix’s Tiger King peaked, which feels like it happened last century, so there’s that. 

By March, the pandemic had already been sweeping around the world, with global financial markets starting to tumble. On March 20, California became the first U.S. state to order its residents into stay-at-home lockdown. New York State followed two days later, on March 22. The story of life—and the economy—under lockdown is probably all-too-familiar to you already. But what transpired on New York’s power grid?

Answer: something curious.

Coronavirus emissions graph in New York City

For most of March, the rolling 7-day average of daily electricity demand and daily grid emissions tracked essentially in parallel. A ~7% drop in average daily load was accompanied by a similar ~7% drop in average daily grid emissions. Then the two curves diverged sharply. The next 7% decline in average daily load came along with a whopping 45% drop in average daily emissions. So what happened?

The answer lies in marginal generators and marginal emissions rates, and what they contributed to overall daily emissions.

New York is a state with bold decarbonization targets: 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 and a net-zero-carbon economy by 2050. But it’s not there yet. While upstate New York has made great strides with zero-emissions generation (mostly modern renewables such as wind and solar), downstate New York remains heavily dependent on fossil-fueled generation, which accounted for 69% of energy generation in 2019.

Yet as electricity demand rises or falls (mostly the latter, in this era of coronavirus), not all generators respond to that fluctuating demand like a swelling or receding of the tides in New York Harbor. Specific generators—the ones that are sitting ‘on the margin’ of demand—turn on or off, or ramp up or down, to maintain the supply-demand balance.

What we saw happening in those weeks of March and April was the byproduct of a simple fact of grid dispatch order: as electricity demand continued falling through late March and then into April, the marginal generators that were turning off were by and large the polluting, fossil-fueled ones. Even though demand declined gradually, New York’s downstate grid got a lot cleaner in the process. Data from WattTime’s analysis confirms as much: Throughout the first month of New York’s stay-at-home order, carbon-free generation remained a stalwart, supplying 7,500 to 8,500+ megawatts (MW) of capacity each day. Meanwhile, fossil-fueled generation plummeted, from supplying 5,500 MW of daily generating capacity at the start of lockdown to just 3,500 MW by mid-April.

So with economies around the country and around the world trying to rebound (or at least wanting to), what do we do with this insight? As energy demand climbs alongside economic activity, are we destined to see carbon emissions rise, too? Not necessarily.

In the same way that New York’s electricity demand and associated grid emissions decoupled in late March and early April thanks to the influence of marginal generators, so too do real-time grid emissions fluctuate all the time, not just during pandemic-induced global economic recessions. Every time you flick a light switch, plug in an electric vehicle to charge, schedule the battery from a residential solar+storage system in California to discharge… a marginal generator responds. And whether that marginal generator is surplus renewable energy or a polluting peaker plant can have a big influence on the emissions your energy use causes. Such fluctuations are most pronounced in grid regions amidst their fossil-to-renewable energy transition, where there’s a mix of clean and dirty generation.

Solutions like WattTime’s Automated Emissions Reduction (AER) technology harness this insight and convert it into a software signal that allows smart devices—thermostats, EVs, batteries, heat pumps, etc.—to sync their demand with moments of clean energy and avoid moments of dirty energy. Adopted at scale, it makes the kind of huge emissions reductions that downstate New York saw earlier this year achievable anytime, anywhere. 

We didn't need a global pandemic to find new examples of the deeper, faster emissions reductions right in front of us, but, well, here we are. Let's do something about it.

Image: Emiliano Bar | Unsplash

DNV GL and WattTime Announce Strategic Partnership: Integrating GHG Emissions and Energy Data to Accelerate a Clean Energy Future

People on the roof of a building with DNV GL and WattTime logos

DNV GL and WattTime Announce Strategic Partnership: Integrating GHG Emissions and Energy Data to Accelerate a Clean Energy FutureOakland, Calif.—17 September 2020—Today DNV GL and WattTime jointly announced a strategic partnership to incorporate WattTime’s emissions intelligence into DNV GL’s energy management and digital services expertise for renewables, storage, and efficiency. By combining data on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions with energy efficiency, battery charging and discharging, demand response, and renewables, DNV GL’s utility, regulatory, and renewable and storage project owner clients can make decisions to deliver the greatest clean energy impact. WattTime pioneered Automated Emissions Reduction (AER), a software solution that allows smart devices to sync their flexible electricity use with times of cleaner generation and avoid times of dirtier energy, as well as ‘emissionality,’ which calculates the avoided emissions of different renewable energy projects based on where they are built and what fossil-fueled generation they displace.

“WattTime brings unparalleled expertise to the table when it comes to understanding the GHG implications of electricity supply and demand. This partnership will empower our clients to better evaluate the environmental impacts of their energy use decisions,” explained Richard S. Barnes, Region President, Energy North America at DNV GL.

The partnership comes on the heels of the release earlier this month of DNV GL’s Energy Transition Outlook 2020. The findings in the latest edition of the eagerly anticipated annual analysis and forecast were a call to action on the climate crisis: The necessary technologies for the world to meet Paris Agreement targets exist, if successfully scaled, but current emissions trajectories will fall far short. Under DNV GL’s forecast, the world will exhaust its carbon budget for remaining within a 1.5ºC scenario by later this decade.

“We’re proud to partner with DNV GL to inform their work with clients around the world,” said Gavin McCormick, executive director of WattTime. “Electrification and renewable energy integration are cornerstones of their latest forecast. Our insights will enable their customers with choice in the form of understanding the impacts of different energy decisions, be it energy storage or efficiency upgrades. Down the road, our software can give all manner of smart devices the intelligence to automatically use cleaner energy as power grids around the world see bigger real-time emissions fluctuations during this transition period from fossil-fueled to renewable-powered generation.”

From its inception, WattTime has championed the use of marginal rather than average emissions rates as a more-relevant way to understand, evaluate and take action based on the actual environmental impact of particular energy use. DNV GL will be able to incorporate marginal emissions into a variety of analyses and products, including 8760 analyses of different technologies’ annual energy use.

About DNV GL
DNV GL is the independent expert in risk management and quality assurance, operating in more than 100 countries. Through its broad experience and deep expertise DNV GL advances safety and sustainable performance, sets industry benchmarks, and inspires and invents solutions. Whether assessing a new ship design, optimizing the performance of a wind farm, analyzing sensor data from a gas pipeline or certifying a food company’s supply chain, DNV GL enables its customers and their stakeholders to make critical decisions with confidence.

Driven by its purpose, to safeguard life, property, and the environment, DNV GL helps tackle the challenges and global transformations facing its customers and the world today and is a trusted voice for many of the world’s most successful and forward-thinking companies.

DNV GL delivers advisory, certification and testing services to stakeholders in the energy value chain. Our expertise spans energy markets and regulations, onshore and offshore wind and solar power generation, power transmission and distribution grids, energy storage and sustainable energy use. Our experts support customers around the globe in delivering a safe, reliable, efficient, and sustainable energy supply.

Learn more at www.dnvgl.com/power-renewables

About WattTime
WattTime is a nonprofit with a software tech startup DNA, dedicated to giving everyone everywhere the power to choose clean energy. We invented Automated Emissions Reduction (AER), which allows utilities, IoT device and energy storage companies, and any end user to effortlessly reduce emissions from energy, when and where they happen. 

Our cutting-edge insights and algorithms, coupled with machine learning, can shift the timing of flexible electricity use to sync with times of cleaner energy and avoid times of dirtier energy. We sell solutions that make it easy for anyone to achieve emissions reductions without compromising cost and user experience. 

WattTime was founded by PhD researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and in 2017 became a subsidiary of Rocky Mountain Institute. WattTime is a founding member of Climate TRACE, a global coalition working together to monitor nearly all human-caused GHG emissions worldwide independently and in real time.

CONTACT
Bethany Genier, Regional Communications Manager, Energy North America, DNV GL
+1.339.927.8815 | Bethany.Genier@dnvgl.com

Peter Bronski, Inflection Point Agency for WattTime
+1.201.575.5545 | peterbronski@inflectionpointagency.com