Let’s Talk Renewable Energy Certificates

Flat World Partners
6 min readFeb 1, 2024

About | Mission | Blog

Let’s talk about the energy cocktail that powers our daily lives. It’s a rich blend — from the graceful dance of wind turbines and the sun’s fiery output in solar farms to the trusty, ever-humming natural gas and nuclear plants. This mix travels through a vast network to light up our homes and keep our businesses running. But here’s the million-dollar question: In this diverse energy mix, how do we ensure that clean energy gets its fair share of the spotlight?

Enter Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), the energy world’s attempt to put a value on green power. Think of them like a gold star for every 1 megawatt-hour of renewable energy produced. These aren’t just fancy certificates; they’re a key player in the energy marketplace. Producers of renewable energy can sell these RECs to anyone wanting to show they’re on Team Green Energy.

Now, here’s the catch: moving to a 100% renewable energy grid isn’t a walk in the park. Challenges like inconsistent wind and solar output, and how quickly these sources can ramp up, are real headaches. RECs try to smooth these bumps in the road, ensuring we don’t trade our current stable energy supply for a greener, but less reliable one. Imagine using solar energy during the day and switching to coal at night, but still being able to say you’re supporting clean energy through your REC purchases.

For everyday folks, buying RECs is like casting a vote for renewable energy. It’s a way to back up those lofty renewable energy goals set by governments and help companies stick to their green promises. On the flip side, for those producing renewable energy, RECs are a financial lifeline, especially when the market gets tough with low prices or too much power.

The world of RECs is split into two: compliance markets, where laws dictate that a chunk of energy must be green, and voluntary markets, where people and companies buy RECs to offset their carbon footprint or just to support renewable energy.

However, the REC scene isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Critics point out that there’s a gap between owning RECs and actually cutting down emissions. The prices of RECs can swing wildly, and the role of middlemen raises questions about market transparency. Plus, the practice of buying RECs while still using non-renewable energy has been slammed as ‘greenwashing.’

In essence, while RECs are a key player in pushing the renewable energy agenda forward and offering financial incentives for green energy production, they’re part of a complex and sometimes controversial landscape. It’s not just about buying a certificate; it’s about making sure these certificates lead us toward a truly sustainable energy future.

Nancy Kang Yao, Impact Analyst

1.Greenwashing concerns: A study highlighted in Nature Climate Change in 2022 raised concerns about the efficacy of RECs in actual emission reductions. It was found that RECs often allow companies to overstate their emission reductions. For example, between 2015 and 2019, companies reported a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but the actual reduction was only about 10%.
2. Duke Energy Florida launches new REC program: In August 2023, Duke Energy Florida introduced “Clean Energy Impact,” a program allowing customers to purchase RECs from local solar facilities. This aims to not only help customers achieve sustainability goals but also reduce rates for all customers by generating revenue from REC sales.

Granular Certificate Trading Alliance: LevelTen Energy, in collaboration with AES, Constellation, Google, and Microsoft, formed the Granular Certificate Trading Alliance to create a new marketplace for trading time- and location-specific renewable energy certificates. This platform is expected to go live in 2024 and aims to facilitate purchases by corporate and utility energy buyers who want to meet 100% of their energy needs with clean energy on an hourly, 24–7 basis​​​​.

Blockchain-based REC tracking: Startups such as TraceX by Powerledger are exploring blockchain technology to improve the transparency and efficiency of REC tracking and trading. Powerledger has partnered with the Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System (M-RETS) and Clearway Energy Group to launch a REC marketplace in the United States. This could enhance trust and potentially unlock new market opportunities for RECs.

Integration with Virtual Power Purchase Agreements: This combination allows companies to financially back renewable energy projects and claim renewable energy usage, regardless of their physical location. The purchase of RECs through VPPAs provides verifiable evidence supporting green energy, even when direct physical delivery of this energy isn’t feasible.

Reveal News released a podcast episode conducting a deep dive and raising valid criticisms on Renewable Energy Certificates, highlighting their limitations and misuse. For instance, more than half of the U.S. government’s claimed renewable energy since 2010 comprised inexpensive RECs, some sourced from questionable facilities like a trash incinerator in Palm Beach County, Florida, and biomass plants in Georgia associated with toxic pollution.

This newsletter is intended solely for informational purposes, and should not be construed as investment/trading advice and are not meant to be a solicitation or recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any securities mentioned. Any reproduction or distribution of this document, in whole or in part, or the disclosure of its contents, without the prior written consent of Flat World Partners is prohibited

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