How ‘time-of-use’ strategies can drive higher-impact renewables sourcing by corporates

By Andor Savelkouls, Jonathan Bell; Altenex Energy
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Google is rapidly decarbonising its power supply through the use of renewables, such as from this site in Belgium. Image: Google.

Andor Savelkouls and Jonathan Bell of Altenex Energy, a subsidiary of Edison Energy, assess the flaws in how corporates currently procure renewable electricity, and how slight tweaks to the system can make it more accurate and cleaner.

Time of use is a critical factor in the generation and consumption of green energy, with a shift underway from tracking yearly, seasonal, or monthly use to tracking by the hour. But while major entities have announced plans to source 24/7 renewables, there is currently no recognised system of verifying the supply on an hourly basis.

Several initiatives are aiming to change that, including EnergyTag, a coalition of more than 100 organisations that includes the world’s largest utilities, corporate consumers, grid operators, government agencies and NGOs. They aim to develop a mechanism to ‘tag’ electricity with the time and source of production so consumers can match their consumption with clean energy hour-by-hour. 

Specifically, the initiative seeks to define a framework for adding a timestamp to Energy Attribute Certificates (EACs), which track the production and delivery of green power across electricity grids in  MWh units. Participants believe this may improve public perceptions of clean energy claims, while incentivising energy storage and supporting new methods of carbon accounting.

That’s important because the current certificate system allows a buyer to claim that they’ve consumed 100% green electricity, even during certain hours or days when it was dark and there was no wind. That’s because it is only viewed on an annual basis, which is why companies like Microsoft and Google are starting to say, ‘We should really start to look at this not on an annual or monthly basis, but on an hourly basis.’

Earlier this year, Google completed its first hourly Renewable Energy Certificate (REC) transactionin partnership with the Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System (M-RETS), moving to advance a system for corporations to better track and certify their clean energy in their bids to become carbon neutral. 

The new Time-based Energy Attribute Certificates (T-EACs), stamped by time and geographic location with increasing granularity, will realise efficiencies for both the value and impact of green energy. Consumer demand is at the heart of these discussions and is driving the need for change with policy makers. Corporate giants have begun to ask for more to ensure their procurements have the highest levels of carbon impact.

In September, leading energy buyers, suppliers, and governments announced the formal launch of the 24/7 Carbon-free Energy Compact in partnership with Sustainable Energy for All and UN Energy. The compact represents a new global effort to accelerate the transition to a carbon-free electricity sector to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. It lays out a set of principles and actions that actors can take to adopt, enable, and advance 24/7cCarbon-free energy, focusing on hourly decarbonisation of local and regional electricity grids.

Altenex Energy and Edison Energy have helped push the voluntary market in this direction with their Insights platform, providing clients with hourly PPA forecasting to enable advanced demand management, inform procurement strategies, and manage more accurate settlement accounting and reporting.

The insights will help guide corporates as they seek to hit increasingly ambitious sustainability targets. As more nations across the globe commit to fully decarbonise by 2050, pressure is mounting on the private sector to help accelerate the clean energy transition. This has spurred major corporates to join initiatives like RE100, making public commitments to source 100% renewable energy for their operations and to fully decarbonise their supply chains.

With more private entities now making public commitments to reduce carbon emissions, investors within the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) space have become increasingly concerned with ensuring the accuracy of claims by companies regarding their sustainability performance. Across Europe, the market is looking to standardization and new regulations, including the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), which mandates ESG risk disclosures.

Creating awareness and visibility is always the first step when things are not clear for corporates and consumers. They won’t take action without it.

This growth is reflected across the European market, where a burgeoning renewable energy sector is now outstripping fossil fuels. And while the structures and mechanisms to track the purchase and delivery of green energy have been established, we see opportunity for improvement, with plans to explore emerging innovations and mechanisms to ensure that the greatest value from renewable energy can be realised.

Purchasing unbundled EACs is not the “deepest green” way of doing things and it’s good that companies like Microsoft and Google are trying to look at what the next steps are. First, make sure that all corporates have a clear pathway to realising impactful green power procurement as part of a carbon reduction strategy in which certificates are incorporated, while at the same time exploring higher-impact PPAs, on-site delivery, or buying 24/7 power.

Andor Savelkouls is senior director, European Renewables Advisory at Altenex Energy, a subsidiary of Edison Energy. Jonathan Bell is director of business development.

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