EDF worked with Evolved Energy Research to explore which clean energy technologies drive the greatest emissions reductions when they experience innovation breakthroughs in cost and performance under different climate policy scenarios.
In other words, we sought to answer the question: How do we target innovation efforts to maximize emissions reductions? This analysis informed a new policy blueprint for federal lawmakers who are setting budgets and priorities for Department of Energy innovation programs.
The analysis underpinning this effort used an energy system model to look at various scenarios of cost and performance improvement across 15 promising clean energy technologies (described at the bottom of this page). The list was not comprehensive of all the technologies that can or will play a role in rapid and deep cuts in carbon emissions, but represented a cross-section of many of the most important climate technologies across the economy.
The analysis allowed us to see the benefits of clean energy innovation on technology deployment and carbon emissions across the energy system.
Explore the effects of clean energy innovation
Use the tool below to explore how innovation affects 1) economy-wide CO2 emissions and 2) technology deployment.
1. How innovation scenarios affect economy-wide CO2 emissions
Try an example scenario:
Set policy ambition to Net-zero, then make your innovation scenarios No Progress: Li-ion and Breakthrough: Li-ion.
The gap between the two solid lines showcases the importance of innovation in batteries. Though the gap may seem small, if you toggle to the Cumulative Emissions bar chart, you can see that the difference between no progress and a breakthrough in Li-ion batteries accounts for nearly 8 million metric tons of emissions reduced – equivalent to erasing almost two years of U.S. GHG emissions economy-wide, or a decade of pollution from the buildings sector.
See the impact on economy-wide CO2 emissions:
- Set the overall level of climate policy ambition: This simulates how aggressive the U.S. may be in driving down emissions over the next three decades, which affects which technologies get deployed. (a) Modest policy ambition wherein, with baseline technology progress, net CO2 emissions reach one-half of today’s levels by 2050; or (b) net-zero policy ambition wherein, with baseline technology progress, CO2 emissions reach net-zero by 2050.
- Set a technology innovation scenario: baseline progress, reflecting likely progress under expected conditions for innovation funding; no progress, a failure case where technology cost and performance remains the same as today; or breakthrough progress, a future where innovation investment increases and technology progress accelerates towards optimistic cost and performance estimates. You can do this for a single technology (e.g., “Breakthrough: Advanced Nuclear”) or for all 15 technologies (e.g., “Breakthrough: All”). An explanation of the technologies is included at the bottom of the page.
- Pick an optional second technology innovation scenario for comparison.
- Hit Update Data and view the impact on annual emissions or cumulative emissions.
2. How innovation scenarios affect technology deployment
Try an example
Set the technology to H2 Electrolysis and the policy ambition in both scenarios to Net-zero. Keep one innovation scenario at Baseline: All and change the other to Breakthrough: H2 Electrolysis.
Now change Breakthrough: H2 Electrolysis to Breakthrough: Solar PV. Here, we see how technologies can complement one another. In this scenario, hydrogen electrolysis is deployed more when solar technology achieves a breakthrough. Though the effect on deployment is slightly less than a breakthrough in electrolysis itself, these powerful complementary effects are important to consider when setting innovation priorities, particularly as the energy system grows more interconnected.
See the impact on technology deployment:
- For just the deployment chart, you must set the climate policy ambition and innovation scenarios, as well as the technology for which you want to see deployment levels.
This could be the same technology that experiences progress (e.g., to see how a breakthrough in Solar PV affects Solar PV deployment). Or, it could be a different technology that could be a complement or competitor (e.g., to see how a breakthrough in Solar PV affects Li-ion battery deployment).
- Hit View Data.
Innovation scenarios for each technology (No Progress, Baseline, Breakthrough) are set according to the Evolved Energy Research technical report: Unlocking Deep Decarbonization: An Innovation Impact Assessment.
The report also includes descriptions of these 15 technologies:
|Advanced nuclear||Advanced nuclear power plants|
|DAC||Direct Air Capture, a form of carbon dioxide removal|
|Fischer-Tropsch||Fischer-Tropsch synthesis for the production of synthetic fuels for trucks, shipping, aviation, and other uses|
|Gas+CCU||Gas power plants with carbon capture and utilization|
|H2 Electrolysis||Hydrogen production through electrolysis|
|H2 Reformation+CCS||Hydrogen production through steam methane reforming, with carbon capture|
|Heat pumps||Air-source heat pumps for space heating and cooling|
|Li-ion||Lithium-ion batteries for mobile (electric vehicle) and stationary (grid) storage applications|
|Long-duration storage||Long-duration electricity storage with discharge durations greater than 50 hours|
|Mobile fuel cells||Hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles|
|Onshore wind||Onshore wind power plants|
|Offshore wind||Offshore wind power plants|
|Sequestration||Geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide|
|Solar PV||Solar photovoltaic power plants|
|Solar thermal heat||Solar thermal industrial heat production to replace natural gas process heat and boilers in steam production|