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  • Writer's pictureBen Haley

U.S. Deep Decarbonization

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

The important thing to know when it comes to deep decarbonization, specifically in the United States, is that it can be done.

The U.S. Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (USDDPP), a research project convened under the auspices of the global United Nations Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (UNDDPP), shows how in two recently released reports.

Pathways to Deep Decarbonization in the United States assesses the feasibility and cost of a low-carbon transformation. It describes four different technology pathways to a decarbonized energy system by mid-century that meet America’s energy needs and support robust economic growth.

I served as the Technical Lead of an analysis that used U.S. PATHWAYS, a bottom-up, stock rollover model of the U.S. energy system that shared a common architecture with and uses many of the same inputs as the National Energy Modeling System utilized by the Department of Energy. PATHWAYS, however, included a more detailed representation of the electricity sector and employed a broader set of strategies for meeting deep decarbonization goals. Shown below is an example of it strengths in action - in addition to employing hydrogen electrolysis to produce an alternative fuel in the transportation sector, this load is dispatched flexibly to address mid-day overgeneration conditions.

Western Electricity Interconnection - 20650

Policy Implications of Deep Decarbonization in the United States describes how the pace and scale of physical infrastructure changes required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 1990 levels by the year 2050 informs the development of coherent, effective energy policy.

per-capita emissions intensity by region

Both reports establish the technical viability of deep decarbonization and seek to move the conversation past the question of "if" and towards the questions of "how". At its simplest, 'how' means employing the three pillars of deep decarbonization: energy efficiency, decarbonization of electricity, and end-use fuel switching. More specifically, we've distilled the five key elements that define a low-carbon energy system. The interactions between these elements is the crux of the decarbonization challenge and the origin of opportunity in the low-carbon economy.

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