Largely driven by the adoption of electric vehicles, widespread electrification of various sectors could increase electricity use by up to 38 percent, according to the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The recently released report is part of a multi-year research effort exploring electrification in commercial and residential buildings, transportation and industry.
“Many electric utilities are carefully watching the trend toward electrification, as it has the potential to increase sales and revenues that have stagnated or fallen over the past decade,” NREL said. “Other motivations to study electrification include its potential to impact energy security, emissions, and innovation in electrical end-use technologies and overall efficient system integration.”
In the report — Electrification Futures Study: Scenarios of Electric Technology Adoption and Power Consumption for the United States — NREL looked at three electrification scenarios: baseline, medium and high.
The medium scenario depicts widespread electrification among “low-hanging fruit” opportunities in EVs, heat pumps and certain industrial applications, but does not lead to “transformational” change.
The high scenario reflects a transformed future because of technology advancements, policy support and consumer enthusiasm.
Compared with the baseline scenario, the medium and high electrification scenarios lead to electric demand growth of 20 percent and 38 percent, respectively, by 2050, or 1.2 percent and 1.8 percent compound annual growth, according to NREL. In comparison, from 1950 to 2016, electric use grew by 4 percent a year.
However, under the high scenario, NREL estimates electric use would grow by 80 terawatt-hours a year through 2050 compared with about 52.5 TWh a year for the previous 34 years, with the “vast majority” of the increase coming from EVs.
“This unprecedented absolute growth in annual electricity consumption can significantly alter supply-side infrastructure development requirements,” NREL said.
Under the high scenario, NREL estimates there would be about 240 million light-duty electric cars and trucks, 7 million medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks and 80,000 electric transit buses on U.S. roads by 2050. There were about 560,000 EVs at the end of 2016, according to the research lab.
Generally, there is less potential for electrification in the building and industrial sectors, but electrification in those sectors could “acutely” affect certain regions and end uses, such as curing and drying, NREL said.
Electrification could sharply change load shapes, mainly due to the use of electric heat pumps, according to NREL.
“Under the medium and high electrification scenarios, growth in winter electricity consumption outpaces consumption in non-winter months in many regions, in large part because of greater adoption of electric air source heat pumps in the Midwest and Northeast regions,” NREL said.
How electrification affects load shapes could have a major effect on electric utility planning, grid operations, reliability assessments and electricity markets, NREL said.
NREL is holding a webinar about the report on July 26.
More information is available here.