North American Renewable Integration Study

NREL's North American Renewable Integration Study (NARIS) informs grid planners, utilities, industry, policymakers, and other stakeholders about opportunities for a coordinated, continental low-carbon grid.

Globe illustration highlights Canada, the United States, and Mexico with a conceptual linked power grid connecting the three countries.

The NARIS project began in 2016 and was released through a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and Natural Resources Canada. NARIS used a suite of advanced modeling tools to study a range of future scenarios and gain insights, including potential impacts on costs, emissions, resource adequacy, and the specific technologies that help enable the transition to a low-carbon grid.

The analysis focused in particular on the potential role of cooperation across North America and between regions within each country, and how transmission can support sharing of supply and demand diversity across the continent. Geographically speaking, NARIS is the largest study of its kind.

This study builds on decades of previous work studying power systems with high levels of renewable generation, including the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, Eastern Renewable Generation Integration Study, Interconnections Seam Study, and Pan Canadian Wind Integration Study.

First-of-a-Kind Power System Modeling for the Entire Continent

With input from the NARIS Technical Review Committee, NREL developed and evaluated a set of four core scenarios to understand the impacts of renewable technology cost trajectories, emission constraints, and demand growth on the key outcomes. The scenarios were informed by the goals in the Mid-Century Strategies for the Paris Agreement in each country, with up to 80% carbon reductions continent-wide.

Leveraging NREL's high-performance computing capabilities, researchers evaluated the scenarios using a variety of models, including NREL's Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS), Distributed Generation Market Demand (dGen™) model, and Probabilistic Resource Adequacy Suite (PRAS), as well as Energy Exemplar's PLEXOS tool. All modeling was sourced by consistent datasets through the NREL Renewable Energy Potential (reV) model, National Solar Radiation Database (NSRDB), and WIND Toolkit.

What We Learned

  • Multiple pathways can lead to 80% power-sector carbon reduction continent-wide by 2050. Steeper cost reduction of wind and solar technologies can lead to a faster and less costly transition, and carbon targets can still be achieved with conservative wind and solar cost assumptions. When it comes to total system costs of reaching 80% reduction in power-sector carbon emissions, wind and solar cost trajectories have a more significant impact than carbon policy assumptions.
  • The future low-carbon system can balance supply and demand in a wide range of future conditions, with all technologies contributing to resource adequacy. In the United States, between 1,200 and 2,000 gigawatts of renewable energy can be deployed to produce 70%–80% of U.S. electricity by 2050 while meeting planning reserve requirements. In Canada, hydropower, gas, and wind technologies contribute most to resource adequacy in the future system.
  • Regional and international cooperation can provide significant net system benefits through 2050. Increasing electricity trade between countries can provide $10 billion to $30 billion net value to the system. Interregional transmission expansion achieves up to $180 billion in net benefits. Although these values are a small percentage (less than 4%) of the total $5 trillion to $8 trillion total system costs (which include all capital and operating generation and transmission system costs), transmission plays an important role in minimizing costs.
  • Operational flexibility comes from transmission, electricity storage, and flexible operation of all generator types, including hydropower, wind, solar, and thermal generation. Hydropower provides a zero-carbon source of energy, capacity, and flexibility to the grid. In comparing similar scenarios with and without the ability to adjust power output from U.S. and Canadian hydropower generators, annual system costs are $2.3 billion higher without this flexibility.

Open-Sourced Data and Advanced Visualizations

Explore detailed NARIS scenario results and download data using the Cambium Scenario Viewer and Data Downloader.

Data visualization developed by NREL to study grid operations across North America under scenarios developed for NARIS. To watch this video in High Definition, click play, then click the gear icon, click quality, and select the highest option. You can also expand the video for full screen viewing.
Watch additional visualizations on YouTube to see more study data in motion.


NREL has released a report on a U.S. perspective in coordination with the U.S. Department of Energy and a companion report describing a Canadian perspective in coordination with Natural Resources Canada.

The North American Renewable Integration Study: A U.S. Perspective, NREL Technical Report (2021)

The North American Renewable Integration Study: A U.S. Perspective — Executive Summary, NREL Technical Report (2021)

The North American Renewable Integration Study: A Canadian Perspective, NREL Technical Report (2021)

The North American Renewable Integration Study: A Canadian Perspective — Executive Summary, NREL Technical Report (2021)

Primary funding for the U.S. and Canadian reports was provided by Natural Resources Canada and the U.S. Department of Energy and the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's Wind Energy Technologies Office, Water Power Technologies Office, and Solar Energy Technologies Office.

In the News

Canada Strengthens Energy Partnership With the United States, Government of Canada (2021)

North American Renewable Integration Study Highlights Opportunities for a Coordinated, Continental Low-Carbon Grid, NREL (2021)

U.S. Secretary of Energy Granholm, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources O’Regan Launch Cooperative Agreement on Clean Energy, Innovation, and Energy Justice, U.S. Department of Energy (2021)

Watch: NREL Releases Five-Year Study on Continent-Wide Integration of Renewable Energy Resources, PV Magazine (2021)