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Electrification Futures Study: A Technical Evaluation of the Impacts of an Electrified U.S. Energy System

Through the Electrification Futures Study, NREL is leading a research team to explore infrastructure investments needed and implications of a more fully electrified U.S. economy. The study will identify the investments in new generation sources—including renewables and nuclear—needed to support an electrified economy and the implications of those investments for the U.S. economy, environment, and communities.

An image entitled, Can We Power the U.S. Economy Without Pollution? with the following text: Goal: Power our transportation, buildings, and industry with clean energy to achieve deep decarbonization. The figure displays current rates of electrification for U.S. industry, transportation, and commercial and residential buildings. It also shows current level of zero-carbon U.S. electricity generation (approximately 30%). The main idea of the figure is that if we can increase clean energy and increase rates of electrification across the economy, we can lower emissions.

Powering the Economy with Clean Energy

A robust, reliable, and resilient energy system is an important driver of America's economy. Research suggests that the U.S. electricity system could operate economically and reliably on clean fuels like nuclear and renewables. At the same time, such a system could be robust enough to extend the benefits of clean power to a much broader swath of the U.S. economy, such as building heating and cooling systems, electrified transportation, and industrial processes.

Research Questions

The Electrification Futures study will answer the following questions:

  1. What end-use services are the best candidates for electrification and how might adoption barriers be overcome?
  2. How might mass electrification impact national and regional electricity consumption and consumption patterns?
  3. How would the U.S. electricity system need to transform to meet the growing demand from an electrified economy?  
  4. What role might demand-side flexibility play to support reliable operations of a clean electricity grid?
  5. What are potential costs, benefits, and impacts of mass electrification?

Our Approach

To quantitatively answer the study's research questions, researchers will use multiple state-of-the-art models and analytic tools. To the fullest extent possible, we will also rely on engineering assessments using bottom-up approaches to develop future scenarios and analyze their implications. The methods and results will be peer-reviewed, and data and assumptions will be made publicly available.

Economy-Wide Model

We will use an open-source energy planning tool called EnergyPATHWAYS representing all demand sectors—buildings, industry, and transportation—to generate future electricity consumption scenarios. Key features include a high spatial resolution, a rich set of technology options, and accounting for infrastructure inertia through stock turnover.

Load Modeling

The Electrification Futures Study team will develop a new highly resolved model to simulate electricity consumption patterns using bottom-up representations of multiple end-use technologies. The model will be used to develop regional hourly load profiles of an electrified U.S. economy.

Electric Sector Capacity Expansion Models

We'll simulate the evolution of the U.S. electricity system, from today through 2050, using NREL's high spatial resolution capacity expansion models: Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) and Distributed Generation Market Demand (dGen). These tools have been used in many groundbreaking studies of the changing U.S. power system, including the Renewable Electricity Futures Study, the SunShot Vision Study, On the Path to SunShot series, Wind Vision, and the Hydropower Vision study.

Unit Commitment and Economic Dispatch Model

To simulate the subhourly system operations for a 2050 grid, we will use Energy Exemplar's PLEXOS production cost model. NREL has applied PLEXOS in numerous large-scale renewable grid integration studies, such as the Eastern Renewable Grid Integration Study and the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study Phase 2.

Research Team

  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Electric Power Research Institute
  • Evolved Energy Research
  • Idaho National Laboratory
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


Trieu Mai
Email | 303-384-7566