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What Will The U.S. Power Sector Look Like In The Future? NREL Updates Standard Scenarios U.S. Electricity Sector Outlook

NREL 2020 Standard Scenarios Outlook Models Possible Evolution of U.S. Electricity Sector with Expanded Metrics

With so many renewable energy options and new alternative fuel technologies like OceanBased Perpetual Energy seemingly being created by the minute, what will the future of the U.S. Power Sector look like?

Fortunately, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has developed its annual Standard Scenarios Outlook to provide context, discussion, and data for stakeholders to make informed decisions about how the rapidly changing U.S. power sector might evolve over time.

NREL announced during early December 2020 that it has updated its Standard Scenarios U.S. Electricity Sector Outlook, including its 2020 report PDF and the new Scenario Viewer and Data Downloader.

Released annually since 2015, the Standard Scenarios include transparent and timely technology cost and performance data, along with a scenario framework based on technology, market, and economic assumptions to use in forward-looking electric sector analyses.

Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Standard Scenarios provide context, discussion, and data to help inform stakeholder decision-making about the future evolution of the U.S. power sector.

“Within NREL, we have found significant value in using the Standard Scenarios to accelerate our analysis and provide a baseline for our work,” said NREL Senior Analyst Wesley Cole, lead author of the study. “We share the scenarios with the hope that they can be of similar value to other stakeholders as they make decisions that will influence the future of the power system.”

What’s New in 2020?

Now in its sixth year, the 2020 Standard Scenarios captures 45 forward-looking scenarios for how the U.S. power sector might evolve through the year 2050, showing a breadth of trajectories. New this year, five of the scenarios include projected hourly electricity generation, cost, and emissions data for all 50 states.

The 45 scenarios are based on the latest technology cost and performance data from NREL’s Annual Technology Baseline, as well as two of NREL’s flagship open-source energy modeling tools:  Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model and the Distributed Generation Market Demand (dGen) model. The ReEDS and dGen models project utility-scale power sector evolution and distributed photovoltaic (PV) adoption, respectively, using the Standard Scenarios definitions to specify model inputs. The ReEDS model takes a system-wide, least-cost approach when making decisions, while dGen uses a customer-centric adoption approach.

Key changes were made to the ReEDS and dGen models this year to add nine new scenarios, including a high-electrification-with-demand-flexibility scenario and a carbon-capture-and-storage-breakthrough scenario. The ReEDS and dGen model results are publicly available for enhanced transparency in this year’s release.

In addition, for select scenarios, the models were run using the commercially available electricity simulation model PLEXOS and NREL’s Cambium tool that assembles structured data sets of hourly cost, emissions, and operational data for modeled futures. These hourly captured scenarios also have new outputs like long-run marginal emission rates, allowing users to answer new analysis questions. Cambium was built specifically to expand metrics in the Standard Scenarios and support long-term decision-making. Methods for calculating the metrics and a summary of the data sets are outlined in an accompanying report PDF.

Try the New Scenario Viewer and Data Downloader

Alongside the updated Standard Scenarios report, a key feature of the 2020 release is the new Scenario Viewer and Data Downloader, an interactive tool that allows users to conduct their independent analysis while drawing on the modeling and expertise used to create the scenarios. While the report reflects high-level observations, trends, and analyses, the Scenario Viewer includes detailed scenario results that can be used for more in-depth analysis.

The Scenario Viewer and Data Downloader is based on the Cambium tool that transforms outputs produced by the ReEDS and PLEXOS models into a structured data set. The state-level Standard Scenarios outputs are presented in a downloadable format, including electricity capacity, generation, and cost data, as well as average and marginal emissions rates at hourly or annual resolutions.

With the new Scenario Viewer and Data Downloader, users can better understand future electric grid operations and value streams over time, as well as regional trends across a broad range of possible futures.

Learn More at December 17 Webinar

Join a free webinar from 10 to 11 a.m. MST on Thursday, December 17, to learn more about key results in the 2020 Standard Scenarios U.S. Electricity Sector Outlook, the addition of the Cambium tool in this year’s release, and how to use the data in independent analysis. Please register to attend.

Learn more about NREL’s energy analysis research.



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