Nexus Systems Modeling and Analysis

NREL performs cutting-edge analysis and develops unique multisector and multiscale model frameworks to address critical planning and operational decisions stemming from climate impacts at the energy-water-land nexus for resilient integrated systems.

Photo of two researchers at a computer looking at a 3-D rendering of data.


NREL offers the following integrated water systems and energy-water-land nexus modeling and analysis capabilities.

NREL performs multisector energy and power system analyses that have embedded water, land, and other resource constraints into planning and reliability models. NREL has developed in-house models as well as adapted commercially available and open-source models to perform electricity system capacity expansion and production cost modeling integrated with other sector-specific models.
NREL quantifies the life cycle water, land, and other resource footprints (e.g., carbon, nutrient, and waste materials) of energy systems and technologies. Using life cycle harmonization protocols developed at NREL, researchers employ unique computational approaches to understand the full impacts of energy systems and technologies.
Many types of wastes represent a significant and underutilized resource for water supply, renewable fuel, nutrient recovery, water treatment, and other product valorization. NREL characterizes and analyzes opportunities to transform wastes from water facilities, industrial sites, landfills, and agricultural operations into renewable energy sources. Our efforts have produced national-level estimates of resource potential along with detailed techno-economic analysis.

Urban environments can have separate technical needs and constraints compared to rural and suburban environments. Urbanization processes generate vulnerability and exposure which, combined with climate change hazards, increases the risk to urban infrastructure and human wellbeing. Urban water management has traditionally involved the “vertical” and “horizontal” provisioning and management of potable and non-potable water supply, sewage, and stormwater drainage services to customers through a network of infrastructure to provide long-term planning, construction, and maintenance to meet service needs.

To address a changing climate, population changes, and the need for increased resiliency, NREL pursues research to characterize, analyze opportunities, and provide tools and solutions to integrate water, land, and energy within urban infrastructure. This includes, source water protection, treatment, and transport; stormwater management; wastewater collection, treatment, conveyance/transport, and disposal management with energy uses, production, grid integration; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Infrastructure operations and management can be made more efficient with monitoring, internet-of-things networked (and non-networked) sensors and control systems, autonomous operation, and digital twins, etc.

Unpredictable, extreme climate-related events including droughts, fire, flooding, and severe weather are posing new risks to built infrastructure. NREL is researching this topic space to assess the value and climate resiliency of distributed infrastructure to enable access and optimize accessibility to water and power in isolated, more remote locations, and in emergency situations (e.g., natural disasters). Through the research and development that considers environmental, social, and economic systems NREL is investigating effective energy and water infrastructure to develop an appropriate framework to meet local demands while providing resiliency to avoid complications associated with climate risks. NREL provides energy-water system risk analyses to improve stakeholder understanding of climate and water impacts and ensure risks are considered in infrastructure planning and implementation.
NREL evaluates trade-offs between energy and water usage in residential and commercial buildings based on alternative designs, operational strategies, and innovative technologies such as cooling towers. We also explore opportunities for solar hot water heaters to reduce energy needs for water resources.
NREL scientists use advanced modeling techniques, digital twins, and high-performance computing to develop a better understanding of how to optimize desalination and water treatment system processes. This informs how to more efficiently integrate treatment and other water infrastructure components, technologies, and processes to improve nexus systems modeling and analysis.

Emerging Areas

  • Behavioral economics
  • Environmental change
  • Integrated systems design


Developing an Equity-Focused Metric for Quantifying the Social Burden of Infrastructure Disruptions, NREL Technical Report (2023)

Linking Life Cycle and Integrated Assessment Modeling to Evaluate Technologies in an Evolving System Context: A Power-to-Hydrogen Case Study for the United States, Environmental Science & Technology (2023)

Technical, Economic, and Environmental Comparison of Closed-Loop Recycling Technologies for Common Plastics, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering (2023)

Comparing Parallel Plastic-to-X Pathways and Their Role in a Circular Economy for PET Bottles, Advanced Sustainable Systems (2023)

Sustainable Manufacturing and the Circular Economy, DOE Technical Report (2023)

A Multi-Model Framework for Assessing Long- and Short-Term Climate Influences on the Electric Grid, Applied Energy (2022)

Land Use for Bioenergy: Synergies and Trade-Offs Between Sustainable Development Goals, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (2022)

Opportunities for Treatment and Reuse of Agricultural Drainage in the United States, ACS ES&T Engineering (2022)

Process Twins for Decision-Support and Dynamic Energy Cost Prediction in Water Reuse Processes, National Alliance for Water Innovation Research Brief (2022)

Climate and Water Risk to the Bulk Power System: Asset to Grid Impacts, AGU Fall Meeting (2022)

Additional Resources

Learn more about the Waste-to-Energy System Simulation Model.


Scott Struck

Integrated Water Systems Lead Analyst

Jordan Macknick

Energy-Water-Land Lead Analyst