A successful clean energy transition must include near-term decarbonization of the gas sector, which will be underpinned by a number of complementary solutions. In addition to expanding electrification, investing in energy efficiency, and addressing pipeline leakage, we also need to shift necessary near-term natural gas usage toward renewable resources. Also known as renewable natural gas (RNG), biomethane is chemically equivalent to fossil natural gas and can provide a range of economic and environmental benefits in the energy sector. This article highlights the benefits of RNG and describes how a new Green-e® certification program helps ensure the integrity and impact of RNG procurement.
RNG provides a range of benefits, and consumer demand is growing quickly
According to the U.S. EPA, almost 30 percent of human-caused methane emissions in the United States come from organic wastes that are managed at farms, landfills, and water resource recovery facilities. Emissions from these sources of waste can be captured and upgraded to RNG, which can then be used to displace fossil natural gas in common carrier pipelines. In addition to the resulting greenhouse gas emission benefits, this process also helps address local air and water pollution by creating incentives for improved waste management processes. Additionally, fuel-switching to RNG supports opportunities for local economic growth and supports energy independence.
RNG plays a unique role in deep decarbonization initiatives by providing a proven solution for difficult-to-electrify sectors, and it is becoming increasingly intertwined with state regulations and incentives focused on designing pathways to carbon neutrality. Utilities are also under increasing pressure from customers to offer solutions that allow customers to address emissions caused by their use of natural gas. The past few years have brought an influx of natural gas utilities developing, filing, and implementing voluntary programs that meet this demand. There are also growing opportunities for corporates to purchase RNG certificates for book-and-claim accounting. However, until recently, these transactions lacked standardization for credible claims, supply quality, and impact.
Green-e® certification sets a standard for high-quality, verifiable RNG transactions
The Green-e® Renewable Fuels Program fills this gap in the market and seeks to accelerate the adoption of biomethane across the United States and Canada. It was developed by the non-profit Center for Resource Solutions (CRS) in consultation with other environmental NGOs and market participants, including 3Degrees. CRS has a long track record in this space, having operated the Green-e® Energy certification program for over 20 years, and in 2020, the organization certified over 90 million MWh of retail renewable energy sales.
The fundamental goal of the Renewable Fuels Program is to ensure that RNG supply is sourced from sustainable and renewable resources that meet the highest environmental standards, and that customers are protected in their purchase and their ability to make verifiable usage claims. The primary document governing this program is the Renewable Fuels Standard. The Standard sets a common unit for RNG transactions – the Renewable Fuel Certificate – and contains requirements regarding the environmental and transactional criteria that RNG supply must meet in order to be eligible for certification. The following fuel pathways are permitted, subject to specific environmental impact criteria for each feedstock: wastewater, municipal solid waste, vegetative matter, crop residue, and animal waste. Anaerobic digestate must also be sustainably managed, for example, by utilizing the American Biogas Council’s Digestate Certification Program.
Furthermore, upstream emissions from eligible fuels must be at least 10% lower than the carbon intensity of fossil natural gas up to the point of injection. Carbon intensity calculations must be made using CRS-approved methodologies and verified by a third party. There are also vintage matching criteria to ensure credible usage claims. With some minor exceptions, until 2026, RNG injected into the common-carrier pipeline during the reporting year or the four preceding calendar years will be eligible for certification. Beginning in 2026, the vintage window will narrow to the reporting year and the previous calendar year, intending to drive new project development over time.
The second governing document for this program is the Renewable Fuels Code of Conduct, which details requirements for product marketing, consumer disclosures related to supply characteristics, and disclosures related to price, terms, and conditions. The intention of the Code of Conduct is to ensure that end-use consumers understand what they are paying for, and that when they do receive a certified product, they can verify what they have purchased and claimed. All requirements related to the Green-e® Renewable Fuel Standard and Code of Conduct are audited by third parties and then approved by CRS on an annual basis.
Procurement opportunities are growing both in the U.S. and abroad
RNG supply is increasing around the world and presents an opportunity for us to address local environmental concerns, mitigate climate change, support local business owners, and establish independence from fossil fuels. Currently, the Green-e® Renewable Fuel Standard only covers transactions in the U.S. and Canada, but similar biomethane products are available in several European countries (see this article for more information). If you are a utility or a corporate customer interested in leveraging RNG as a near-term solution to address your natural gas emissions, feel free to reach out for further information on options that are available to mitigate your environmental impact.
3Degrees provides products that are Green-e Energy® certified and meet the environmental and consumer protection standards set forth by the non-profit Center for Resource Solutions. Green-e Energy® certified RECs are independently audited to ensure that only one customer claims credit for each REC and the MWh of renewable electricity generation it represents. Learn more at green-e.org.