Role of Firm Low-Carbon Electricity Sources

Mitigating climate change while fueling economic growth requires decarbonizing the electricity sector at reasonable cost. Some strategies focus on wind and solar energy, supported by energy storage and demand flexibility. Others also harness ‘‘firm’’ low-carbon resources such as nuclear, reservoir hydro, geothermal, bioenergy, and fossil plants capturing CO2.

This paper presents a comprehensive techno-economic evaluation of two pathways: one reliant on wind, solar, and batteries, and another also including firm low-carbon options (nuclear, bioenergy, and natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration). Across all cases, the least-cost strategy to decarbonize electricity includes one or more firm low-carbon resources. Without these resources, electricity costs rise rapidly as CO2 limits approach zero. Batteries and demand flexibility do not substitute for firm resources. Improving the capabilities and spurring adoption of firm low-carbon technologies are key research and policy goals.

Read the full study at Joule, “The Role of Firm Low-Carbon Electricity Resources in Deep Decarbonization of Power Generation” by Nestor A. Sepulveda, Jesse D. Jenkins, Fernando J. de Sisternes, and Richard K. Lester, published November 21, 2018.