Avoided Emissions / Emissionality

Procure renewable energy in higher-impact locations.
Renewable energy projects don’t pull emissions out of the atmosphere. The reason it helps the environment is because it displaces fossil fuel power plants that would have otherwise polluted. But… which plants? That can vary greatly from project to project. In some locations, building new renewables today merely displaces other renewables--leading to potentially as little as zero real-world impact on climate change. On the flip side, renewable energy built in optimal locations can displace the very dirtiest fossil fuel plants, often enabling up to double the real-world avoided emissions than typical renewable energy projects of the same size and cost.


By assessing the avoided emissions of different renewable energy projects, organizations can identify and prioritize projects that are particularly effective at reducing emissions as part of the procurement process. For example, today adding one more solar PPA in California increasingly reduces output at a mix of natural gas plants and existing solar farms. But adding a new wind PPA in Wyoming still nearly always reduces output at a coal plant, avoiding more emissions.


Using our data-driven marginal emissions analysis techniques, WattTime can measure and compare the avoided emissions of different potential renewable energy projects, or even estimate them before you build them. We call this practice of comparing and acting on the avoided emissions of different renewable energy projects “emissionality.”


Whether it is evaluating where to buy renewable energy, or where to build it, we are here to help you achieve the greatest emissions impact possible. 


Corporate & institutional buyers
Renewable energy developers

Case Study 1: Salesforce


In October 2020, Salesforce became the first corporate entity to publicly commit to evaluating avoided emissions as part of their renewable energy procurement decisions. In 2013, Salesforce publicly committed to reach 100% renewable energy. Achieving this goal, at minimum, would require Salesforce to purchase renewable energy equivalent to the amount of power they use. However, Salesforce decided to go above and beyond, and consider more than just megawatt hours in their renewable energy purchases. 


Using their procurement matrix, developed with support from WattTime, Salesforce signed a renewable energy agreement with a solar farm located in Queensland, Australia. Energy from this solar farm reduces over twice the emissions than that of energy produced by a comparable solar farm located in California.


Case Study 2: Nucor


On November 13, 2020, Nucor announced a contract to buy solar power via a virtual PPA. The Nucor project is the largest PPA yet signed worldwide for off-site renewable energy projects in the steel industry. But it’s how Nucor evaluated renewable energy projects and chose its investment that is arguably the most noteworthy.

WattTime Nucor Case Study


Case Study 3: Boston University


Using emissions profiles developed by WattTime, we validated the impact of Boston University’s strategic decision to select a wind project in South Dakota. We determined their renewable energy investment would have two to three times the impact of selecting a project in New England.

WattTime Boston University Case Study

WattTime specializes in helping corporations or renewable energy developers maximize their emissions reductions. Contact us to learn more about the different ways we can work together.


How do I do this?

Salesforce’s October 2020 whitepaper release contains suggested practices for using avoided emissions as a metric for evaluating renewable energy purchases. 

How do I account for this? 

The environmental impact of a renewable energy project is considered its avoided emissions under the GHG Protocol. Under the protocol, companies must report their responsibility for emissions under the market- and location-based methods, and that companies may also report their avoided emissions. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol for Project Accounting explains how to report avoided emissions, or we can help you.

What is the impact potential?

If all new renewable energy projects worldwide began using emissionality, that would reduce over 4 gigatons per year: approaching the carbon footprint of the entire United States. If only American corporate PPA buyers adopted the technique, on average it would increase their avoided emissions by 34%, the equivalent of taking 540,000 cars off the road. 

How does this drive impact?

This paper, co-authored by our co-founder Gavin McCormick, discusses the mechanisms behind the concept of emissionality.