Analytic Support for NREL's Renewable Electricity Futures Study

Archive Project
Analytic Support for NREL's Renewable Electricity Futures Study

Project Leaders:

Focus Areas: 

  • Energy
  • Climate Policy
  • Regional Analysis

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is leading a study of renewable electricity futures for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and has enlisted the MIT Global Change Program for analytical support. In addition to the MIT component of the effort, the NREL study involves a set of subject matter experts as well as a broad set of stakeholders including financiers, utilities, system integrators, and equipment manufacturers.

In the broader context of DOE's applied energy R&D programs, a variety of low carbon electricity scenarios are useful to explore, including market penetration ranging from low to high levels of: fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (fossil-CCS), nuclear, or renewables. These technologies all face significant technical, economic, environmental, and public-political risks and uncertainties in meeting future electricity needs. Renewables, for example, face concerns about: technical performance; effective integration into the grid to provide reliable power, given the variability of resources such as solar and wind; cost; environmental impacts, such as might occur in uncontrolled large-scale production of biomass; and public Not-In-My-Backyard responses.

The Renewable Electricity Futures Study (REFS) will examine primarily the high renewables penetration case, with some additional broad analysis of lower levels of penetration or more rapid penetration rates. The focus of this study is to evaluate to what extent, how effectively, and at what cost renewables are able to supply a major portion of the power for the grid, and how rapidly this supply can be ramped up. More specifically, the study will evaluate the technical, economic, and environmental feasibility of an 80% Renewable Electricity Future scenario by 2050 and will identify the technology Research, Development, Demonstration, Deployment (RD3) and Policy actions necessary to achieve this scenario. Key issues the study will address include: resources, technologies, system integration, utility concerns, requirements, impacts, policy costs, and pathways.

Funding Sources