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Role of Firm Low-Carbon Electricity Resources in Deep Decarbonization of Power Generation  

Author:  | Economics, Emissions

Highlights

  • Firm low-carbon resources [e.g., nuclear, natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration, and bioenergy] consistently lower decarbonized electricity system costs
  • Availability of firm low-carbon resources reduces costs 10%–62% in zero-CO₂ cases
  • Without these resources, electricity costs rise rapidly as CO₂ limits near zero
  • Batteries and demand flexibility do not substitute for firm low-carbon resources

Summary

We investigate the role of firm low-carbon resources in decarbonizing power generation in combination with variable renewable resources, battery energy storage, demand flexibility, and long-distance transmission. We evaluate nearly 1,000 cases covering varying CO₂ limits, technological uncertainties, and geographic differences in demand and renewable resource potential. Availability of firm low-carbon technologies, including nuclear, natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration, and bioenergy, reduces electricity costs by 10%–62% across fully decarbonized cases. Below 50 gCO₂/kWh, these resources lower costs in the vast majority of cases. Additionally, as emissions limits decrease, installed capacity of several resources changes non-monotonically. This underscores the need to evaluate near-term policy and investment decisions based on contributions to long-term decarbonization rather than interim goals. Installed capacity for all resources is also strongly affected by uncertain technology parameters. This emphasizes the importance of a broad research portfolio and flexible policy support that expands rather than constrains future options.

Nestor A. Sepulveda, Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge

Jesse D. Jenkins, Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, MIT

Fernando J. de Sisternes, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, MIT

Richard K. Lester, Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT

Joule. Published: September 06, 2018
DOI: 10.1016/j.joule.2018.08.006

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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