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

  • Clean energy policies that reach low or zero carbon emissions in the electricity sector by 2040 to 2050 are achievable at a cost of about 15% above baseline and generate climate and health benefits that far exceed the moderate policy costs. 
  • By comparison, the existing Affordable Clean Energy rule does little to address carbon dioxide emissions nationally and is projected to increase carbon and co-pollutant emissions in many states.
  • National policy design matters to the timing and magnitude of carbon emissions reductions, costs, and air quality in individual states.

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

Supplemental Information:

Appendix 1 Appendix 2 Appendix 3

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