What’s a REC?

June 14, 2017

Your laptop is powered by a complex, interconnected system that stretches across the continent and began more than a century ago. Over the next few months, we’ll be bringing you a series of explainers about different aspects of the energy systems that power your life.


Today, to explain RECs, we’ve got to begin with a very brief Power Grid 101.


Energy all over North America is generated at power plants, where enormous turbines turn wind, solar, nuclear, coal, gas, and hydro sources into electricity. When you watch Netflix or turn on the air conditioner, electricity from power plants reaches your home or business via a series of sub-stations, transformers, and millions of miles of electrical wires.


Just as hundreds of rivers and streams upstate flow into New York City’s portion of the Hudson, hundreds of power plants provide your home’s electricity. And just as you can’t always tell where each droplet of the Hudson originated, it’s also sometimes impossible to determine where every individual unit of electricity originated.

So how can you be sure that your power is renewable?

Enter RECs. REC stands for Renewable Energy Certificate. Think of RECs as being a little like stock certificates. In business and in energy, certificates stand in for things that are otherwise difficult to hold in your hands – like the specific portion of the business a shareholder owns, or the individual unit of electricity powering your lamp.



Federal and state governments worked with power providers to develop RECs as a way of funding and encouraging renewable energy development. One REC is issued for every megawatt hour of power generated and delivered by a renewable source like wind, solar, or water. Each REC comes with complicated identifying information such as: where, how, and when the renewable energy was generated. When power companies like Drift buy RECs, the money goes directly to renewable energy providers.


What do RECs have to do with you? When you choose a Zero Emissions Power Mix, RECs help fill in the gaps. Because Drift is a nimble platform that uses smart software to seek the most efficient power available, we are often able to source your power directly from power providers who use exclusively renewable sources. However, the nature of energy development and use today means that sometimes, we’ll tap into energy streams whose origins are more diverse, and may include old-school power sources like coal or gas. When that happens? We’ll buy RECs to make up the difference.


The RECs we buy are local. In New York, our RECs support a hydroelectric power provider upstate. Every REC we buy will support local, renewable energy providers, which means RECs are one way we’re working to provide greener, more efficient energy for your home and business.