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 at the energy-water-land nexus.

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.

Multisector Planning and Reliability Assessments

NREL performs multisector energy 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 dynamics.

Key Staff

Greg Brinkman, Maxwell Brown, Stuart Cohen, Ana Dyreson, Jordan Macknick, Ariel Miara, Yinong Sun


Climate and Water Resource Change Impacts and Adaptation Potential for U.S. Power Supply, Nature Climate Change (2017)

Water and Climate Impacts on Power System Operations: The Importance of Cooling Systems and Demand Response Measures, NREL Technical Report (2016)

Water Constraints in an Electric Sector Capacity Expansion Model, NREL Technical Report (2015)

Life Cycle Analysis

NREL quantifies the life cycle water, land, and other resource footprints 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.

Key Staff

Alberta Carpenter, Garvin Heath, Daniel Inman, Jordan Macknick


Understanding the Life Cycle Surface Land Requirements of Natural Gas-Fired Electricity, Nature Energy (2017)

Estimating Biofuel Feedstock Water Footprints Using System Dynamics, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation (2016) 

Life Cycle Water Use for Electricity Generation: A Review and Harmonization of Literature Estimates, Environmental Research Letters (2013)

Waste to Energy

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.

Key Staff

Michael Guarnieri, Daniel Inman, Anelia Milbrandt, Kristi Moriarty, Phillip Pienkos, Sherry Stout, Ling Tao


Economic Analysis of Wet Waste-to-Energy Resources in the United States, Energy (2019)

Wet Waste-to-Energy Resources in the United States, Resources, Conservation, and Recycling (2018)

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


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 explores opportunities for solar hot water heaters to reduce energy needs for water resources.

Key Staff

Dane Christensen, Jennifer DawMichael Deru, Shanti Pless, Ben Polly, Kevin Regimbal, David Sickinger, Bethany Sparn, Paul Torcellini


Thermosyphon Cooler Hybrid System for Water Savings in an Energy-Efficient HPC Data Center: Results from 24 Months and Impact on Water Usage Effectiveness, NREL Technical Report (2018) 

A Desiccant-Enhanced Evaporative Air Conditioner: Numerical Model and Experiments, Energy Conversion and Management (2013)

Low-Cost Solar Water Heating Research and Development Roadmap, NREL Technical Report (2012)

Component, Technology, and Process Optimization

NREL scientists use advanced modeling techniques and high-performance computing to optimize desalination, water treatment and other water infrastructure components, technologies, and processes.    

Key Staff

Jennifer Daw, Ty Neises, Bryan Pivovar, Samantha Reese, Craig Turchi


Cogeneration Using Multi-Effect Distillation and a Solar-Powered Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Brayton Cycle, Desalination (2019)

Optimal Feed Flow Sequence for Multi-Effect Distillation System Integrated with Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Brayton Cycle for Seawater Desalination, Journal of Cleaner Production (2018)

Emerging Areas

  • Behavioral economics
  • Environmental change
  • Pumped hydro energy storage
  • Integrated systems design


Jordan Macknick

Energy-Water-Land Lead Analyst