Electrification Futures Study: Scenarios of Electric Technology Adoption and Power Consumption for the US

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: There is an emerging policy goal to electrify various sectors of the U.S. economy, namely transportation, buildings, and industry. This Electrification Futures Study models and assesses electricity demand levels and load patterns, power sector operations and evolution, and the potential costs and impacts of increasing electrification in the U.S. For example, under a “high” electrification scenario, U.S. power generation consumption could jump 65% by 2050. The potential growth rates that we could see, however, even under the highest electrification scenarios, are not unprecedented but do require further study in terms of their potential impacts.

Mostly for national security and environmental reasons, an increasing number of policymakers are proposing to electrify America’s transportation, buildings, and industry sectors.

For the purposes here, this “electrification” is defined as the substitution of electricity for direct combustion of non-electricity-based fuels (e.g., gasoline and natural gas) used to provide similar services.

In many ways, this is actually a good thing because electricity has helped drive innovation and economic growth, enable technology innovations, deliver health and social benefits, and improve quality of life and promote convenience in everyday lives. After all, the functioning of modern societies has been fueled by this ubiquitous, yet invisible, energy carrier.

This Electrification Futures Study uses a scenario analysis approach to prospectively model and assess electricity demand levels and load patterns, power sector operations and evolution, and the potential costs and impacts of increasing electrification in the U.S.

The focus is on electric technologies that can be used to replace existing non-electric ones—e.g., electric vehicles for internal combustion engine vehicles, heat pumps for natural gas space heating, and electric induction furnaces for fuel-fired industrial furnaces—and not on yet to-be-developed electric-based technologies.

Electrification will increase U.S. electricity needs, perhaps as high as 65% by 2050. This would be a highly significant change since domestic demand has been flat for more than a decade, at around 4,100 TWh. The implications of increased electricity consumption and production will be tied to the evolution and operation of the future U.S. electricity system.

Yet still, in terms of historical electricity consumption, the potential growth rates that we could see even under the highest electrification scenarios are not unprecedented and are well below growth rates that U.S. electric utilities have experienced over their long history. There are also a number of ways to constrain the increase in usage and costs that could result, such as demand response. 

This retrospective context shows that, although the electrification transition found in many of the scenarios would require substantial change in end-use energy consumption and technology adoption, similar or even more rapid transitions have occurred in the past.

The speed of adoption and ability of some to electrify, however, remain uncertain and need further examination. And more research is required to more comprehensively assess the drivers and impacts of electrification.

 

Read the full study here

Feature Charticle

Historical and Projected Annual Electricity Consumption, Under Electrification Scenarios

NREL

Findings: 

  • For transportation, buildings, and industry, the “electrification” of the U.S. economy will increase U.S. electricity demand, which has been flat for over a decade.
  • Although the rate of electrification and adoption remains uncertain, under a “high” electrification scenario, U.S. electricity demand could rise nearly 65% by 2050, 45% under “medium,” and 25% under a “reference” case.
  • The potential growth rates that we could see even under the highest electrification scenarios are not unprecedented, and there are a number of ways to control cost increases from a new demand perspective.
  • Further research is needed to more comprehensively assess the drivers and impacts of electrification.

Read the full study here