EPRI unveils U.S. National Electrification Assessment

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) on April 3 unveiled its U.S. National Electrification Assessment (USNEA), a detailed study that “assesses customer adoption of electric end-use technologies over the next three decades and key implications for efficiency, the environment, and the grid.”

EPRI launched the study’s publication with an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. 

Mike Howard, the president and CEO of EPRI said, “our team has spent decades building this very sophisticated model and for the first time, all of this work, the modeling and the technology insights, are coming together so we can really think forward.”

The report provides several key insights on customer reliance, consumption, technology, emissions, natural gas, and grid infrastructure. It notes that “across a range of assumptions, economy-wide electrification leads to a significant reduction in energy consumption, spurs steady electric load growth, increases grid efficiency and flexibility, and reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—even when there is no assumed climate policy.”

The report utilizes a matrix of four scenarios to “consider opportunities, drivers, and challenges for electrification.” The report notes that “Conservative and Reference scenarios focused on how changes in technology cost and performance affect outcomes. Two other scenarios explore the impact of potential future economy-wide carbon policy, a Progressive scenario in which carbon is valued at $15/ton CO2 starting in 2020, and a Transformation scenario in which the carbon value starts at $50/ton CO2 in 2020.

The report reveals six key insights including customers increased reliance on electric end uses noting that “In the United States, electricity has grown from 3% of final energy in 1950 to around 21% today. Across the four scenarios, electricity’s role continues to grow, ranging from 32% to 47% of final energy in 2050.”

But as reliance rises the report also points to a decrease in final energy consumption (a measurement of energy consumed across fuel types at end use). All four of the report’s scenarios predict falling energy consumption as the growth of economic activity is offset by efficiency improvements in individual end uses, such as lighting, variable speed motors, more efficient internal combustion engine vehicles, as well as a shift to more efficient electric technologies.

The report addresses the notion that technology innovation lowers costs while also focusing in on the possible effects of policy. The report states, “stakeholders will need to build upon lessons learned from past successes, such as utility-administered energy efficiency programs. In addition, effective rate designs coupled with policy and regulatory frameworks can be structured to support investment in electrification end use technologies and enabling infrastructure, including a more modernized electric grid.”

The report predicts a decrease in carbon emissions via electrification. Air quality improvements were not modeled in the analysis, but the report predicts that “even without a carbon policy, CO2 emissions fall 20% by 2050 in the Reference case.” Natural gas use is expected to increase per the report as it notes that it has “surpassed coal as the most-used fuel for power generation.”

The report takes into consideration the pressure to modernize the grid, partially in response to the effects of EVs and the charging stations that fuel them.  The report goes on to predict “the end-use mix shifts to include more vehicle charging and heat applications, seasonal low temperatures will drive heating demand, while reducing the efficiency of electric vehicles—resulting in a shift in overall loads toward the winter months. While electricity demand in most U.S regions peaks during the summer, peak loads could shift to the winter by 2050 across the USNEA scenarios, assuming no efforts to actively manage loads.”

The report also recommends actions needed to realize the full benefits of efficient electrification including the following:

  • Expanded R&D to accelerate technology development
  • New policy and regulatory designs
  • New electricity market designs
  • New analytical tools
  • Expanded focus on resiliency

In the near term, EPRI is focusing on state-level assessments of electrification efforts, developing a benefit-cost framework for 2018 for accessing projects, establishing electric technology centers, expanding research in resiliency, and cyber security, and facilitating awareness.

Panel discussions

The presentation included two separate panel discussions along with moderated Q&A and questions from the audience.

The first panel featured EPRI’s Geoff Blanford and Allen Dennis.

Blanford spoke in depth about how the complex and robust model for the study was developed. He also made it clear the model was delivering “scenario projections, not forecasts,” and relied on the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), as a framework for projected growth in the economy. 

Dennis followed by addressing some specific examples of electrification that are projected to affect the future including new generation heat pumps with demand response features, indoor agriculture, and electric vehicles. 

A second panel discussion featured EPRI Board Members, Jeffrey Lyash, President and CEO of Ontario Power Generation, Pat Vincent-Collawn, Chairman and CEO of PNM Resources, and Sheryl Carter Director, Power Sector, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Anda Ray, Senior Vice President of External Relations for EPRI, posed questions to the panelists about the implications of future electrification. 

Carter spoke on behalf of the NRDC and voiced her support for efficient electrification noting, “twenty years ago, or even more recently, environmental groups like NRDC were actually opposing increased electrification. But what’s changed is electric technologies have become much more efficient and the grid has become much cleaner.”

Vincent-Collawn said “At PNM we see electrification as an opportunity to continue the journey we’re on to reduce carbon emissions, to have smarter, more interconnected cities and communities, to accelerate that transition to cleaner energy resources and more sustainable resources.” She mentioned how the transportation sector is now more focused on carbon reduction as power generation became cleaner and talked about a fleet of electric commuter buses in Albuquerque and air source heat pumps.

Lyash talked about the similarities between what is happening in the U.S. market with what he’s seen in Canada, noting that Ontario “burned their last ton of coal in 2015 and retired all the coal plants.” He said coal was replaced with expanded use of nuclear, hydro, renewables and combined cycle natural gas. He went on to say the province is focusing on “how do we use that clean electricity efficiently to de-carbonize mobility, space heating and industrial processes?”