The 2022 Standard Scenarios Are Now Available

Set of Annual Scenarios for U.S. Electricity Sector Evolution Is Now Available, Representing the Inflation Reduction Act and More Decarbonization Scenarios

Dec. 8, 2022 | By Madeline Geocaris and Samantha Wagstrom | Contact media relations

Photo of transmission towers with a solar farm nearby and desert and mountains in the background.
The eighth installment of the Standard Scenarios includes 70 possible U.S. power system futures. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released the 2022 Standard Scenarios, a suite of forward-looking scenarios of the U.S. electricity sector. The suite offers a scenario framework to explore the rapidly evolving electricity sector, based in part on timely and transparent projections of technology cost and performance.

The scenarios illuminate potential individual technology roles in the larger energy system while highlighting the impact of market and policy issues on electricity sector evolution. NREL updates the Standard Scenarios annually to consider a wide range of possible futures. The annual release includes an NREL technical report with key results and scenario outcomes that can be viewed and downloaded through the NREL Scenario Viewer.

In their eighth installment, the Standard Scenarios capture 70 possible U.S. power system futures through 2050—up from 50 scenarios last year. Notably, the 2022 report reflects the potential impacts of power sector provisions in the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), includes scenarios that achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035, and more explicitly considers the role of new consideration of nascent generation technologies.

"The U.S. electricity sector continues to undergo rapid change," said Pieter Gagnon, lead author and NREL grid analyst. "We believe this year's scenario results will be particularly interesting, given that they explore the impact of the IRA across a wide range of possible futures."

The Standard Scenarios are supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and are part of a larger NREL effort to ensure energy analyses incorporate transparent, realistic, and timely assumptions and consider diverse potential futures. The Standard Scenarios are modeled using the latest technology cost and performance data from NREL's Annual Technology Baseline.

New in 2022: Inflation Reduction Act, More Decarbonization Scenarios

The 2022 Standard Scenarios represent the main electricity sector provisions from the IRA, including modifications and extensions to electricity sector Production Tax Credits (PTCs), Investment Tax Credits (ITCs), incentives for captured carbon dioxide (CO2), and a new credit for existing nuclear generators. In addition, the Standard Scenarios reflect the possibility of increased electrification induced by the demand-side provisions from the IRA.

While the Standard Scenarios have previously explored U.S. electricity sector decarbonization, a new set of scenarios that achieve full decarbonization by 2035 is included this year. NREL's recent 100% Clean Electricity by 2035 Study has a broader suite of electricity sector decarbonization scenarios that explore more possible definitions of what 100% means and the technologies that may come into play.

Additionally, this year's scenarios explore the role of nascent technologies in reaching 100% power sector decarbonization. The nascent technologies include enhanced geothermal systems, floating offshore wind, coal carbon capture and storage (CCS), natural gas and biopower CCS, small modular nuclear reactors, and renewable fuel combustion turbines.

Key Trends Across the Scenarios

The Standard Scenarios include a scenario called the Mid-case, which has central or median values for core inputs such as technology costs and fuel prices, moderately paced demand growth, and electricity sector policies as they existed in September 2022 (including the IRA). The remaining 69 scenarios are created by varying inputs, such as technology and fuel prices, resource availability, demand growth, whether nascent generation technologies are allowed, and by introducing national decarbonization constraints.

As modeled, several key trends emerged across the suite of scenarios:

Wind and solar see significant growth, making up the majority of new generation: By 2050, wind and solar generation in the Mid-case scenario increase up to five times current generation.

Still-nascent technologies can play a role: In many scenarios, natural gas and coal plants are retrofitted with new CCS technologies. Biopower with CCS, electricity-powered direct air capture, and renewable fuel combustion turbines are deployed in scenarios where 100% net CO2 emission reductions are imposed.

U.S. electricity sector emissions significantly reduce through the 2030s: Compared to 2021 emissions, annual U.S. electricity-sector CO2 emissions in 2035 are reduced by 77% in the Mid-case and 46%–87% across all scenarios with current policies.

A phaseout of the IRA tax credits can cause an emission rebound in the 2030s: The IRA's tax credits are either scheduled to phase out at the end of 2032 or when an emissions threshold is met, depending on the credit. A reversal of emission trends is seen in scenarios where credits expire. For example, in the Mid-case, annual CO2 emissions reach their lowest level of 300 million metric tons per year (MMT/year) in 2038, but the phaseout of the IRA's credits results in an increase to 750 MMT/year by 2050.

The reversals are not seen in scenarios where the IRA credits do not expire, or where decarbonization trajectories are imposed.

Learn More About the 2022 Standard Scenarios

To learn more, watch the 2022 Standard Scenarios webinar. You can also access the NREL technical report or view and download the scenarios on the NREL Scenario Viewer.