Many organizations today are turning to RECs and carbon offsets as means of reducing their carbon footprint. RECs, or Renewable Energy Certificates, are commonly purchased by organizations to reduce the carbon footprint of their electricity. Carbon offsets also work to reduce an organization’s overall carbon emissions. These two methods of carbon footprint reduction are frequently compared, but they are fundamentally different tools.
What is a REC?
REC is short for Renewable Energy Certificate. One REC represents one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity that has been generated and pushed to the grid from a renewable energy source such as wind, solar, or hydro.
Since all electricity goes into the shared electricity grid, RECs represent legal ownership of the renewable component of electricity generation and help track renewable energy after it enters the grid. When an organization purchases a REC, they own and are effectively using that renewable energy.
Why purchase RECs?
RECs can help organizations and individuals achieve clean energy goals and lower their electricity-related emissions. They are an attractive option for those in areas where renewable energy options are lacking or for those who want to use renewable energy without installing onsite renewables.
What is an Offset?
The term “offset” is used to describe a specific project, activity, or set of activities intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This can include reducing total greenhouse gas emissions or increasing the amount of carbon storage through projects like forest planting or landfill methane capture. The offset of the project is the reduction of one metric ton of CO2 or CO2 equivalent. Carbon offsets must be permanent, verifiable, and measurable.
Organizations often use offsets to displace emissions they cannot directly eliminate onsite, such as the CO2 produced from natural gas used in operations. They are a useful strategy to lower or eliminate an organization’s overall volume of emissions.
Why purchase offsets?
The primary reason organizations purchase offsets is to decrease their net emissions. It’s not always possible to eliminate emissions in every aspect of a business, so offsets allow organizations balance or eliminate their carbon footprint and are a useful tool for voluntary emissions reductions.
What’s the difference between RECs and Offsets?
While RECs and offsets can both help organizations lower their carbon footprint, they have two different purposes. Offsets represent a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and support emission reduction activities. On the other hand, RECs represent the generation of renewable energy and help support renewable electricity development. Offsets can come from all kinds of projects designed to lower emissions, while RECs are specific to electricity and can only be generated from renewable electricity sources.
Offsets can be used to “offset” or negate any greenhouse gas emissions, while RECs only lower an organization’s emissions from electricity.
The largest difference between the two tools is the intent behind each. Carbon offsets reduce carbon that already exists in the atmosphere; RECs reduce carbon that would otherwise be created by fossil fuel generation.
Offsets and RECs both share the purpose of reducing emissions volumes. While offsets can be any project that reduces an organization’s carbon footprint, RECs are specific to generating and using renewable electricity. Both tools used in unison can help companies achieve carbon reduction goals and advance us to a carbon neutral future. For more information on offsets vs. RECs, visit https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2018-03/documents/gpp_guide_recs_offsets.pdf.