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How we count carbon emissions from electricity matters

How we count carbon emissions from electricity matters


Addressing the impacts of climate change is the biggest challenge of our time. Meeting this challenge will require innovation and collaboration across countries and industries, and to enable that collaboration, in 2019 Amazon cofounded the Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach net-zero carbon by 2040. With this, Amazon also committed to being powered with 100% renewable energy, and as of today, we are already reaching more than 85% renewable energy and are on a path to 100% by 2025.

An Amazon wind farm in Texas.

To meet both our commitment to the Climate Pledge and the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must decarbonize the world’s electricity grid as quickly as possible. One of the most effective strategies for doing that is to rapidly scale up renewable energy worldwide. However, to ensure that we’re directing our efforts toward the most effective interventions, we need carbon accounting to be based on the best available data.

Carbon emissions from electricity generation vary based on time and location, which makes measuring them complicated. By looking at the right data and taking advantage of advances in cloud computing, we can now improve our understanding of the emissions impact of our energy consumption and our clean-energy purchases.

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That is why Amazon has announced the creation of the Emissions First partnership of companies, which includes some of the world’s largest buyers of renewable energy: META, General Motors, and Salesforce, who are coming together to support important updates to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP).

Greenhouse Gas Protocol due for revision

Last revised in 2015, the GHGP is the world’s leading carbon-accounting standard, which Amazon, like thousands of other companies, follows. With the GHGP guidance, technological advances and new regulation, we have seen a dramatic increase in corporate renewable energy purchasing over the last decade. Between 2015 and 2021, more than 100 gigawatts (GW) of cumulative corporate purchases of clean energy were announced — with Amazon’s renewable-energy capacity of 19 GW representing nearly a fifth of that amount.

Amazon’s first solar farm in South Africa.

Despite the successes of the GHGP, there is an opportunity to modernize its methodology. Under the current GHGP, a megawatt-hour (MWh) of renewable energy counts toward reducing a MWh at the location of an organization’s electricity consumption, regardless of the makeup of the grid where the renewable energy was created. Thus, there is not a common way to account for where new renewable-energy projects will have the greatest impact.

If, on the other hand, we measure using emissions data, we can account for the emissions that are displaced by a new renewable-energy project. For example, Indiana has a marginal emissions rate more than twice that of California (0.64 total carbon dioxide (tCO2)/MWh vs 0.28 tCO2/MWh). Therefore, the same MWh of electricity generated by a new solar or wind project can displace twice the carbon emissions based solely on where it is located and when it is consumed.

Benefits of emissions-based accounting

An emissions-based accounting method has several benefits. It recognizes emerging technologies that can deliver emissions avoidance, such as battery storage, green hydrogen, and other emerging carbon-free energy sources. It encourages companies to focus on reducing carbon from global electricity grids as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. It will accelerate and expand an equitable energy transition for communities worldwide and enable them to benefit from corporate investments in carbon-free energy projects. And it can also be used by organizations and institutions of all sizes to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises continue to take steps to reduce their own emissions.

Updating the GHGP to include an emissions-based method will ensure we can all use the best data and methods to accelerate the decarbonization of the electricity grid. We invite other organizations to join our coalition in calling for this change to the GHGP by visiting www.emissionsfirst.com.


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