The Context

U.S. energy policy is at a crossroads and policy options for addressing carbon emissions from the electricity sector are front and center in national conversations about climate change. At the same time, electrification of the transportation, building, and industrial sectors has emerged as a central strategy for decarbonizing the U.S. economy. With this transition, electricity sector policy will strongly influence U.S. carbon emissions, air quality, and related impacts on human and ecosystem health.

The Clean Energy Futures Project

The Clean Energy Futures project aims to quantify the carbon emissions, costs, and air quality outcomes of contrasting electricity sector policies that are relevant to current national discussions. The results will provide policymakers with rigorous and timely research for decision making.

The Clean Energy Futures project is a multi-institutional research initiative with collaborators from Syracuse University; the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Resources for the Futures; and Georgia Institute of Technology.

What’s at Stake?

  • Internationally, electricity sector policy will determine whether the U.S. gets back on track to meet its original commitment under the Paris Climate Accord.
  • Nationally, electricity sector policy will define the nation’s energy technology pathway of the future, the timeline for decarbonization, the cost of electricity to consumers, and national emissions outcomes.
  • For states, electricity sector policy will influence their ability to achieve GHG-reduction and air quality goals.
  • Locally, national electricity sector policy will perpetuate or help alleviate longstanding inequalities in exposure to air pollution.

Key Insights

An analysis of an illustrative 80×30 clean electricity standard (CES) by the Clean Energy Futures project shows that achieving the Biden Administration’s clean electricity goal through a CES would have modest costs and large benefits. 

Furthermore, if a CES were passed through budget reconciliation, many of the costs of the clean energy transition would shift to the federal government and electricity rates would likely fall. 

Our analysis is the first to map the air quality and related health benefits for an 80×30 CES. The results show that they are widely distributed across all states in the coterminous U.S. and that the illustrative 80×30 CES has the largest total benefits, climate-related net benefits, and health benefits of eight policies examined. The present value of the estimated climate benefits through 2050 ($637 billion) outweigh the estimated costs ($342 billion). 

This 80×30 CES would also prevent an estimated 317,500 premature deaths between now and 2050 and generate estimated present value health benefits of $1.13 trillion due to cleaner air, bringing the estimated present value net benefits to $1.43 trillion for 2020 to 2050. 

Research Approach

The Clean Energy Futures project is analyzing 10 policy approaches to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector. We use outputs from the Integrated Planning Model (IPM) to estimate changes in electricity generation, carbon and co-pollutant emissions, and system costs from 2025 to 2050 compared to a no-policy reference case. Emission estimates are used in the Community Multiscale Air Quality (CMAQ) model to simulate changes in air quality, including concentrations of fine particulate matter and ozone, and atmospheric deposition, across the U.S. resulting from these policies.

Next Steps

  • Develop additional policy briefs on the influence of small generating units and the effects of different clean energy standard policy designs
  • Model air quality changes for all policy cases
  • Model human and ecosystem health outcomes
  • Analyze distributional effects for cost and air quality outcomes by race/ethnicity and income

Clean Energy Futures Policy Brief

Clean Energy Futures Project Collaborators

  • Charles Driscoll, Jr. – University Professor of Environmental Systems and Distinguished Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Syracuse University
  • Kathy Fallon Lambert – Senior Advisor, Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Dallas Burtraw – Darius Gaskins Senior Fellow, Resources for the Future
  • Maya Domeshek – Research Associate, Resources for the Future
  • Amelia Keyes – Research Associate, Resources for the Future, JD candidate Harvard Law School
  • Qasim Mehdi – PhD candidate, Syracuse University
  • Armistead (Ted) Russell – Regents Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Huizhong Shen – Postdoctoral Fellow, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Petros Vasilakos – Postdoctoral Fellow, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Peter Wilcoxen – Professor, Director of the Center of Environmental Policy and Administration, Maxwell School, Syracuse University

Media contact: Daryl Lovell, (315) 443-1184.

Estimated present value system costs and monetized climate and health benefits of electricity sector policies compared to a no-policy reference case for 2020 to 2050