This blog post has been updated in Dec 19 to reflect the re-branding of NCOS to ‘Climate Active’.
For many sustainability managers, navigating the many acronyms that exist for renewable energy certificates like LGCs and state-based certificate schemes like ESCs for carbon reduction activities can be confusing. Some schemes are federal; others are state-based. Some relate to energy, others to carbon. Some can be used for carbon reduction; others can’t. To make sense of these three and four-letter acronyms, we thought it was time to publish a blog post on this topic.
Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)
Once electricity from renewable sources enters the grid, it mixes with electrons from multiple sources, like coal-fired power plants, and becomes indistinguishable. To track renewable energy, Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are assigned for every megawatt hour created from renewables. Each REC is assigned its own unique number to track the ownership of the environmental (and social) benefits of the renewable energy. They can be traded separately from the underlying electricity.
Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) were created to spur the development of renewable energy generation through a market-based mechanism of supply and demand. A REC has a financial value attached to it, which fluctuates depending on prevailing market conditions.
In Australia, RECs are supported by Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, which states that by 2020, 33,000 GWh must be generated from renewable sources (this equates to about 23.5% of the overall total). The scheme ends in 2030.
RECs are divided into Small Scale Technology Certificates (STCs) and Large-Scale Generation Certificates (LGCs).
The party that owns the REC owns the claim to that megawatt hour of renewable energy. Renewable energy certificates are used to offset electricity consumption. They cannot be used to offset other emission sources like fuel consumption or Scope 3 emissions like waste or business travel.
Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs)
STCs are like an upfront subsidy for renewable energy systems that are under 100kW. They are deemed upfront and come with your renewable energy installation.
Under previous Australian carbon accounting rules (Climate Active) selling the STCs (i.e., claiming the subsidy) meant that you were not allowed to account for the emission reduction. However, under revised Climate Active’s rules, behind-the-meter energy usage originating from small-scale onsite generation systems can now be treated as zero-emissions energy, regardless of whether any STCs have been created, sold or transferred to any other party. This applies to systems installed in the past as well as future installations.
As such, you can add the self-consumption of electricity from your solar PV systems to your total demand for electricity, and this generation is treated as zero-emissions electricity for your carbon footprint. You can also use the generated renewable electricity against your renewable energy target.
Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) from onsite renewable energy generation
If your renewable energy system is larger than 100kW, you are eligible for one LGC for every megawatt hour your solar PV system generates. As opposed to STCs, the LGCs are not deemed upfront. You need to keep track of your renewable energy generation on an annual basis to be able to create and then sell LGCs. While LGCs currently have a much higher market value than STCs, this can change in line with the supply and demand for certificates by liable entities (like electricity retailers).
If you sell the LGCs, you will generate income. However, if you sell your LGCs, the carbon reduction and renewable energy generation associated with the energy generated cannot be claimed.
According to the Climate Active, behind-the-meter energy usage originating from large-scale onsite generation systems that have created LGCs can be treated as zero-emissions energy only if the equivalent amount of LGCs are voluntarily retired. Behind-the-meter energy usage that is not matched by an equivalent amount of voluntarily retired LGCs must be accounted for in the same way as grid-based energy, and offset accordingly if a carbon neutral strategy is pursued.
Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) from offsite renewable energy generation
Rather than having a system onsite, you can purchase LGCs from a renewable energy project that is grid-connected, or offsite. There are principally two options to purchase offsite LGCs – either through a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or through a broker.
Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) are treated the same as the purchase of GreenPower® provided the certificates are retired. If you have entered into a PPA without obtaining and retiring the LGCs (purchasing the black portion only), then you cannot claim the emissions reduction/renewable energy attributes from the project.
A note on surplus electricity
The treatment of surplus electricity from renewable energy and batteries from the perspective of renewable energy and carbon abatement claims is complex. You can read more about this topic in our blog post at https://100percentrenewables.com.au/how-to-account-for-exported-solar-electricity/.
The GreenPower® program is an independent government accreditation scheme and is recognised as the most highly regarded standard for offsite renewables in Australia. GreenPower® purchases are additional to Australia’s Renewable Energy Target, and an extensive two-tier auditing process ensures that no double counting can occur. To purchase GreenPower®, you can approach your electricity retailer, buy from an independent provider, decoupled from your electricity agreement or through a GreenPower® PPA.
The purchase of GreenPower® is considered to be equivalent to the direct use of renewable energy. This means that you can claim the emissions reduction associated with this action. You can also use purchased GreenPower® towards your renewable energy claims.
Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs)
The Emission Reduction Fund (ERF) is a voluntary scheme that provides incentives for organisations and individuals to adopt new practices and technologies to reduce their emissions. Participants can earn ACCUs for emissions reductions. The ACCUs can be sold to the Commonwealth under a carbon abatement contract with the Clean Energy Regulator, or they can be sold on the voluntary market and are eligible as offset units under the Climate Active.
If you generate ACCUs from emissions reduction projects occurring within your boundary, you can claim the reduction as part of your carbon account only if the ACCUs from your projects are voluntarily retired. If the ACCUs are not retired, you are required to account for your emissions without the reductions associated with the projects (i.e. as though the projects had never occurred).
One carbon offset represents one tonne of carbon emissions that are not released into the atmosphere, that occur as a result of a discrete project. The emissions reductions from a particular carbon offset project can be sold to enable the purchaser to claim those carbon reductions as their own. Renewable energy is one type of offset activity, but there are many others like energy efficiency or forestry projects.
Carbon offsets can be used to offset any emission source, including ones that are not electricity related. You cannot use carbon offset for any renewable energy claims.
State-based white certificate schemes
Several jurisdictions have energy efficiency schemes that require energy retailers to achieve energy efficiency in their customer portfolio. The NSW Energy Savings Scheme and the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target Scheme are the biggest in terms of number of certificates. The ACT and South Australia operate similar, but smaller schemes mainly targeting households and small business.
Energy Savings Certificates (ESCs) – New South Wales only
ESCs created under the Energy Savings Scheme (ESS) reward energy-saving projects through a financial value on every tonne of carbon that is abated by an organisation. The objective of the scheme is to reward companies that undertake projects that either reduce electricity consumption or improve the efficiency of energy use. The ESS began on the 1st July 2009 and is part of the NSW Government’s plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The scheme is legislated to run until 2025 or until there is an equivalent national energy efficiency scheme.
Victorian Energy Efficiency Certificates (VEECs) -Victoria only
The VEET scheme was established under the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target Act 2007 and commenced on 1 January 2009. Each VEEC represents one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) abated by specified energy saving activities known as prescribed activities. The abatement is calculated by comparing the difference between the energy use after the completion of an upgrade or project and the ‘baseline’ energy use, which refers to the amount of energy that would have been used if the energy efficient installation/project had not taken place. VEECs are bought by large energy retailers with a liability under the scheme.
Treatment of white certificate schemes
You are not required to account for state or territory-based energy efficiency schemes. Emissions reductions resulting from activities supported by these schemes can be counted towards your carbon account regardless of whether any associated certificates have been created, sold or transferred to any other party. So, in short, you can claim the ESCs/VEECs/other white certificates and the carbon reduction.
Carbon accounting for all these different federal and state schemes can be confusing, as may be accounting for your Scope 3 emissions. If you need an expert to help you with putting your carbon inventory together, please contact Barbara or Patrick.
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