Google announced in September 2020 that the company will aim to provide power for data centers and offices through carbon free electricity in 2030, and although no details have surfaced as of now, Google is now working with the Midwest Renewable Energy Tacking System (M-RETS) on researching and developing purchase models for green electricity that are more complex, so as to inspect and compare the renewable energy certificates and power consumption on an hourly basis that will strengthen carbon emission measures.
One of the several ways for businesses to satisfy voluntary renewable energy targets apart from a direct use of green electricity is the renewable energy certificate mechanism, which is also known as the renewable energy credit, and the certificate indicates relevant information of the green electricity, including energy type, power generation volume, production place, and time of production. The certificate resembles an identity card for green electricity, and is used primarily to calculate the quota for businesses in subsidizing and purchasing green power industries, as well as the level of carbon dioxide emission that can be offset.
A single certificate uses 1,000kWh as unit, and a renewable energy certificate can be divided into “bundled” and “unbundled”, where Taiwan adopts the bundled system that sells green electricity and certificates at the same time, whereas the latter separates the sales of green electricity and certificates, though only buyers who have purchased the certificate can claim to be using green electricity in order to avoid repeated calculations. The latter is usually adopted by Europe and America.
Most of the systems adopted by Google and other major US energy buyers calculate the efficiency of carbon reduction in the renewable energy certificate on a monthly or annual basis, where a new energy tracking model and time-based energy attribute certificates that will lower the update time to an hourly basis will be able to provide more detailed data of green electricity investment and expand on the progress of carbon reduction, as well as further understand how each investment portfolio in renewable energy performs in energy transformation. Ben Gerber, CEO of M-RETS, commented that renewable portfolio standard (RPS) is not only a strategy of carbon reduction, but also a strategy of renewable energy procurement.
Business can also offset power consumption through the more affordable renewable energy certificates in the future, though experts warn that this particular plan may be restricted by data availability, market structure, and the respective climate targets of businesses.
Gerber believes that the model will not be an overnight success. Although the obtainment and comparison of hourly data is feasible, it is not easy and lacks standardized procedures, and that independent grids do not complete overlay with the REC registered coverage zones of regional transmission organizations. In terms of market structure, the mere implementation of M-RETS will not derive any impact to the market due to the lack of actual data standards, where the support and approval of each business is also required.
The cooperation between Google and M-RETS is only restricted within the Midwest at the moment. M-RETS had previously signed an agreement with the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) on data sharing, and is currently working with another regional transmission organization in order to obtain additional hourly data.
(Cover photo source: Flickr/Panegyrics of Granovetter CC BY-SA 2.0)