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What is Emissionality? Getting More Carbon Bang for Your Solar Buck

We’ve all heard how we can take small actions to reduce our own carbon footprints: turn off your lights before you leave the house, carpool with others rather than driving separately, eat less meat. It sounds easy, but we all know it’s so much more complicated than that. Take electricity: in the United States, over 25 percent of all emissions come from our electricity grid. Sure, it might be somewhat related to that time you left the lights on before you went to the store, but it’s much more due to the fact that only 8 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. comes from renewable energy. 

So where does that leave you and your lightbulbs? You may be surprised to find out that the simple act of turning on the lights can have a significantly bigger impact on our emissions if you live in one part of the country compared to another. When you plug the lamp on your nightstand into the wall socket, the power you use comes from a mix of fossil fuels, nuclear power, hydro power, and renewable energy. If you live in California, you’re drawing much more electricity from solar power. If you live in Minnesota, it’s fossil fuels for you. 

What can we do about it? If we want to make a dent in our emissions, we can start by building new clean energy in the parts of the country with the biggest reliance on fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas. 

What is Emissionality? 

We’ve already gone into why measuring additionality is so important to showing that your positive climate action is actually driving results. Emissionality, coined by our friends over at WattTime, goes further to show that an additional renewable energy project can make an even bigger impact on emissions reductions. 

Emissionality is a quantitative measurement that compares the impact of renewable energy projects on driving down emissions. Due to the uneven distribution of clean energy in the United States, where a renewable energy project is built has a large influence over how much carbon it is reducing, or directly replacing.  

Take Clearloop’s 1MW solar farm in Jackson, Tennessee: if the South were a country, it’d be the 6th worst-polluted place in the world, and a much larger proportion of electricity generated in Tennessee comes from fossil fuels compared to other parts of the United States like California or New England. 

By building a 1MW solar farm in a part of the country with a much dirtier grid, Clearloop’s little solar farm is punching above its weight to directly replace fossil fuels and drive down emissions. 

According to WattTime’s research, incorporating emissionality into deciding where a renewable energy project will be built “can achieve up to a 380% increase in avoided GHG emissions.” 

Snapshot of marginal emissions by electric grid, provided by WattTime. Emissions change as often as every 5-minutes. The emissions intensity here is shown within a colored range, low in green to high in red. interval 

Take a look at the map above, provided by WattTime. If you could decide where to build a new solar farm, would it make more sense to place it smack dab in the middle of the Great Plains (where there’s plenty of sun to boot), or somewhere in Southwest, already saturated with clean energy? If you’re using the concept of emissionality to help you decide, you’ll likely choose somewhere in the red with the hopes of pushing it to yellow, and eventually, green. 

Read our white paper: Solar in the Shadows: Expanding Access to Clean Energy in Forgotten America

Equity and Emissionality 

At Clearloop, we believe in bringing renewable energy investment to communities that are getting left behind. This approach is centered on equity: the parts of the United States that lack clean energy are also forced to live with the negative environmental, health, and economic fallout from dirty fossil fuel-generated electricity. By building new solar capacity and cleaning up the grid in the places that need it the most, not only will we make a much bigger impact on driving down emissions, we’ll also make a direct impact on the economic well being of those communities. That’s because clean energy infrastructure not only creates jobs and a reliable stream of tax revenue for local governments, it entices private businesses to build new factories, bring new jobs, and invest in those communities even more. 

We have the technology to expand clean energy in the United States. Thanks to our friends at WattTime, we know where we can get the biggest bang for our buck when it comes to building additional solar capacity. Now companies of all sizes are signing up with clearloop to put their reclaimed carbon footprints to work. 


Want to learn more about how to reclaim your company’s carbon footprint and expand access to clean energy with Clearloop? Drop us a note at hello@clearloop.us or contact us here.

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