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March 2014

Study on Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Systems, Published in Science, Indicates New Priorities

A graphic that illustrates how methane leakage is detected from top-down and bottom-up measurements. It lists the advantages (top-down: detect total emissions and covers large areas; bottom-up: knowledge of sources and precise measurements) and challenges (top-down: attributing emissions to sources and accounting for weather; bottom-up: cost of sampling and sampling bias) with both.

Methods for detecting natural gas emissions. Illustration from John Bellamy and Adam Brandt, Stanford University Precourt Institute for Energy.

A new study published in the journal Science says that the total impact of switching to natural gas depends heavily on leakage of methane (CH4) during the natural gas life cycle and suggests that more can be done to reduce methane emissions and to improve measurement tools that help inform policy choices.

"With this study ["Methane Leaks from North American Natural Gas Systems"] and our larger body of work focusing on natural gas and our transforming energy economy, we offer policymakers and investors a solid analytical foundation for decision making," said Doug Arent, executive director of the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) and a co-author to the study. "While we found that official inventories tend to under-estimate total methane leakage, leakage rates are unlikely to be high enough to undermine the climate benefits of gas versus coal."

NREL Senior Scientist Garvin Heath and JISEA Executive Director Doug Arent are among the list of authors from Stanford University, MIT, Harvard University, and several other institutions.

Dozens of major mainstream and scientific media outlets have covered the findings, including NPR, The Washington Post, USA Today, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes, The Hill, Business Week, MIT Technology Review, Climate Central, and Phys Org.

Read the news release.

This article is believed to be the 17th from NREL authors published in Science. Science has an impact score of 31.027.

SAM Estimates Renewable Energy Metrics

A screen shot of the main window in SAM software.

The SAM main window.

System Advisor Model, SAM 2014.1.14: General Description, a new NREL report, describes the capabilities of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and NREL's System Advisor Model (SAM), Version 2013.9.20, which was released on September 9, 2013. SAM is a computer model that calculates performance and financial metrics of renewable energy systems, such as photovoltaics (PV), concentrating solar power, solar water heating, wind, geothermal, biomass, and conventional power systems.

NREL provides SAM as a free download at

A Renewable Energy World article, "CSP Solar Tower Plant Performance Modeled for New Markets," discussed how SAM was used in CSP Today's Solar Tower Report 2014.

NREL Analysis and Analysts in the News

"Assessing the Drivers of Regional Trends in Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing," authored by NREL analysts Ted James, Alan Goodrich, and Michael Woodhouse, among others, is one of the top 10 accessed articles from the online version of Energy & Environmental Science during October—December 2013.

Renewable Energy World interviewed Lori Bird for the article "Adequate Transmission Among Options to Better Integrate Renewable Energy to Grid, Says NREL."

Solar Magazine discussed NREL's report The Potential of Securitization in Solar PV Finance in an article titled "NREL Finds Both Opportunities and Barriers to Securitization as a Source of Capital for Solar PV."

GreenTech Media posted an article and audio from a podcast in which Austin Brown was interviewed. The article was titled "Can Transportation Reach Zero Emissions by 2050?" Tech Investor News posted an article linking to the GreenTech Media article.

The City of Aspen public radio station interviewed Joyce McLaren on NREL's assistance to Aspen in meeting the city's goal of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2015. The Aspen Daily News posted an article about the goal.

"In our study, we analyzed various plant configurations and identified specific ones that provide significantly more value than has been found in previous analyses. For example, we explored the potential benefits of extending thermal storage at CSP plants beyond six hours [and] found additional benefits for six to nine hours of storage, but rapidly diminishing benefits for greater than nine hours of storage."

—Jennie Jorgenson, as quoted in the CSP World, Photon, and Solar Industry Magazine, in regards to the NREL report Estimating the Performance and Economic Value of Multiple Concentrating Solar Power Technologies in a Production Cost Model. Read the NREL news release.

The Christian Science Monitor references NREL's Renewable Electricity Futures Study in their article "How to Use Less Fossil Fuel at Home."

GreenTech Solar posted an article titled "Will Crowdsourced Loans for Rooftop Solar Overtake Third-Party Ownership?" The article cited the NREL report Non-Hardware ("Soft") Cost-Reduction Roadmap for Residential and Small Commercial Solar Photovoltaics, 2013-2020.

Recent Publications

Journal Article: Decision-Making for High Renewable Electricity Futures in the United States
Journal: Energy Strategy Reviews
Authors: Morgan Bazilian, Trieu Mai, Doug Arent, Mackay Miller, and Jeffrey Logan, NREL; Sam Baldwin, DOE

This short report review highlights aspects of policy, regulation, finance, markets, and operations that can help enable high penetration renewable energy electricity generation futures. It uses analytical results from the NREL Renewable Electricity Futures Study as a basis for discussion.

Technical Report: Increasing Energy Access in Sub-Saharan Africa: Exploring Public-Private Models for Intervention
Authors: Morgan Bazilian and Jacquelyn Pless, NREL

The International Energy and Climate Initiative (Energy+) was established in late 2010 and launched by the UN Secretary-General and the Norwegian Prime Minister to support efforts to achieve universal access to sustainable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in partner developing countries by scaling up access to renewable energy sources and increasing energy efficiency. This report is the second deliverable in a small advisory role focused on ways that Energy+ could make a large impact in providing energy access to the poor.

JISEA Report: Exploring the Potential Business Case for Synergies between Natural Gas and Renewable Energy
Authors: Jaquelin Cochran, Owen Zinaman, Jeffrey Logan, and Doug Arent, NREL

This paper attempts to address the question, "Given near- and long-term needs for abundant, cleaner energy sources and decarbonization, how can more compelling business models be created so that these two domestic forms of energy work in greater concert?" This paper explores revenue opportunities that emerge from systems-level perspectives in "bulk energy" (large-scale electricity and natural gas production, transmission, and trade) and four "distribution edge" subsectors: industrial, residential, commercial, and transportation end uses. Read the news release.

Presentation: Supply Chain and Blade Manufacturing Considerations in the Global Wind Industry
Authors: Ted James and Alan Goodrich, NREL

This briefing provides an overview of supply chain developments in the global wind industry and a detailed assessment of blade manufacturing considerations for U.S. end-markets. The report discusses the international trade flows of wind power equipment, blade manufacturing and logistical costs, and qualitative issues that often influence factory location decisions. To help guide policy and research and development strategy decisions, this report offers a comprehensive perspective of both quantitative and qualitative factors that affect selected supply chain developments in the growing wind power industry.

Presentation: Clean Energy Manufacturing: U.S. Competitiveness and State Policy Strategies
Author: Eric Lantz, NREL

This presentation for the National Governors Association Policy Academy highlights the potential of manufacturing in supporting economic development opportunities while also providing examples of the financial considerations affecting manufacturing facility siting decisions for wind turbine blades and solar PV.

Fact Sheet: Strategic Energy Analysis

NREL complements its scientific research with high-quality, credible, technology-neutral, objective analysis that informs policy and investment decisions as renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies move from innovation through integration. This fact sheet highlights NREL's analytical capabilities and achievements.

For the latest updates on information regarding energy analysis, visit the Energy Analysis website. You can also subscribe to the Energy Analysis at NREL newsletter using our simple online form.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) aims to provide credible, objective data and insights that inform policy and investment decisions as energy efficient and renewable energy technologies advance from concept to commercial application. NREL analysis encompasses a broad range of scientific research and reporting activity in support of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), NREL programs and initiatives, and the analysis community.