October 15, 2007

Carbon Footprints and Carbon Offsets

As part of Blog Action Day, I thought I'd cover carbon footprints and carbon offsets. What do you get when you "offset" your carbon emissions? Is it a good idea or simply a way that allows well-off westerners to buy a little dispensation while not doing much for the world?

In my mind, it depends on how you offset your carbon emissions and how you manage your carbon emissions to actually use less in the future. And it definitely makes sense to calculate how much carbon you actually are emitting.

Figuring out your carbon footprint is a straightforward task, although the results can be quite eye-opening (boy, that's a lot of carbon!). One easy carbon calculator was developed jointly by Acterra, the Loma Prieta chapter of Sierra Club and 3 Phases Energy Services. What I like about their calculator is it actually weighs your carbon emission for electricity by what state you live in. If you live in Oregon where much of the electricity is created by hydropower, you will emit about one half of the emissions of someone living in California and quarter or less of the emissions of someone who lives in Texas when using exactly the same energy.

Once you calculate your carbon emissions, they take you through an energy audit to help identify where you might save more energy. Finally they provide you with an option to purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that will be used to bring more wind power on-line. As the Cool-it site describes RECs, these certificates are certified by Green-e and can be trusted to be used to offset your carbon emissions.

Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) are sold by operators of wind farms and other clean energy generators based on how much energy they produce. For each megawatt (MW) of renewable energy delivered to the electricity “grid,” these operators can sell one REC on the energy market. RECs, therefore, provide a financial incentive for operators to produce renewable energy.

Since utilities are required to accept as much renewable energy as the operators produce, the more renewable power that is delivered to the grid, the less non-renewable (fossil fuel) energy is needed. And, given that the production and use of fossil fuel energy is the biggest contributor of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other global warming gases, the less of it that’s produced the better, and the cleaner our air will be. Thus, RECs encourage the development of energy technology that helps prevent global warming.

The way I look at my purchases of carbon offsets is as an effective way to incent the building of wind-energy to displace dirty coal generated energy. And using my carbon footprint is a good way to determine how many RECs I should buy. At the same time, I can compare my yearly carbon emission output to track whether I'm emitting less year by year. Sounds like a real good deal.

Posted by Mary at October 15, 2007 08:34 PM | Environment | Technorati links |
Comments

To me, offsets seem like buying indulgences.

At a corporate level, carbon offset is important and all, but carbon reduction is even more important and I am hoping that you might consider signing a petition that my organization sponsors:

www.energybill2007.org

Congress finally has a chance to pass meaningful energy legislation. The bill they are about to pass includes the best fuel economy standards ever (35 mpg by 2020) and a renewable electricity standard (15% by 2020) that guarantees the growth of renewable, clean energy. But there is a chance these two key advances won’t make it through to the final bill.

Posted by: Chris Abraham at October 16, 2007 11:27 AM

They didn't have any savings suggestions for my usage, which was at 39% of the American norm. I suppose down there, saving more would be pretty hard to manage. The tests that use acres of land for the measure count my usage as even lower. I guess not driving a lot really cuts down on the numbers.

Posted by: Scorpio at October 16, 2007 02:04 PM

I am a big fan of carbon offsetting, in fact I write a whole blog about it. Any serious conversation about offsetting has to discuss energy reduction first. I like that you can track year over year carbon emmissions.

Posted by: matt at October 17, 2007 08:50 AM

I am a big fan of carbon offsetting, in fact I write a whole blog about it. Any serious conversation about offsetting has to discuss energy reduction first. I like that you can track year over year carbon emmissions.

Posted by: matt at October 17, 2007 08:51 AM