EUF > Policy Analysis > Five Lab Study

Scenarios of U.S. Carbon Reductions:
Potential Impacts of Energy-Efficient and Low-Carbon Technologies by 2010 and Beyond

Project Description

Of the major greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change, carbon dioxide (CO2) accounts for most of the recent increase in the heat-trapping capacity of the atmosphere. Worldwide, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are increasing at about 0.5% annually, and anthropogenic CO2 emissions have resulted in atmospheric CO2 concentrations that exceed pre-industrial levels by about one-third. Of all the human activities that contribute to this increase, fossil fuel combustion is by far the largest and is estimated to account for more than half of the greenhouse warming resulting from anthropogenic sources in recent years. Consequently, any national effort to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions can only be accomplished by increasing the productivity of energy use.

Energy-efficient and other low-carbon technologies reduce CO2 emissions by displacing the need for fossil fuel combustion. In this report, we present the results of a study conducted by five U.S. Department of Energy laboratories on the U.S. potential to reduce GHG emissions using energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies. Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory coordinated the study and Argonne National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also made contributions to the work. End-use forecasting group staff played key roles in the assessment of all-sector economic impacts (Chapter 1) and the analysis of the building sector (Chapter 3).

In this report, which is based on engineering-economic modeling, we discuss technologies in each of four energy sectors: buildings, industry, transportation, and utilities. Our calculations document that numerous cost-effective energy-efficient technologies remain underutilized in each sector. In the report, we quantify the reductions in carbon emissions that can be attained through the improved performance and increased penetration of efficient and low-carbon technologies by the year 2010. We also describe a wide array of advanced technology options that could be cost-competitive by the year 2020 given a strong and sustained national commitment to energy research and development.

For the assessment of potential carbon reductions by 2010, the study defines a Business-as-Usual (BAU) forecast as well three alternative scenarios. The BAU scenario, based on the Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook, 1997, projects an increase of 390 million metric tonnes of carbon (MtC) per year (from 1340 to 1730 MtC) between 1990 and 2010. The potential carbon reductions estimated for the three alternative scenarios are summarized in the table below. In the "efficiency" scenario, the nation actively pursues policies and programs to promote market acceptance of energy efficiency while expanding commitments to research and development. In the two high-efficiency/low-carbon scenarios, under a carbon cap and trading system, permits for carbon sell for either $25 or $50/tonne C. The study concludes that, along with utility sector investments, a vigorous national commitment to develop and deploy energy-efficient and low-carbon technologies could cost-effectively reduce U.S. carbon emissions by approximately 390 MtC per year.

Results of the Interlaboratory Working Group Study: Potential Annual Reductions in 2010 Carbon Emissions as a Result of Energy-Efficient Technologies, Relative to the BAU Forecast
Efficiency
Scenario
(MtC)
Sectoral
Share of
Reductions
$25/tonne
carbon permit
trading fee
(MtC)
Sectoral
Share of
Reductions
$50/tonne
carbon permit
trading fee
(MtC)
Sectoral
Share of
Reductions
Buildings 25 20% 44 19% 62 16%
Industry 28 22% 54 23% 93 24%
Transportation 73 58% 88 38% 103 26%
Utility Supply - - 48 20% 136 34%
Total 126 100% 234 100% 394 100%

Project Staff

Mark Levine
Jonathan Koomey
Lynn Price
Nathan Martin

Key Data

Detailed output spreadsheets for building sector analysis, in Excel 5 format

Publications

Interlaboratory Working Group. 1997. Scenarios of U.S. Carbon Reductions: Potential Impacts of Energy-Efficient and Low-Carbon Technologies by 2010 and Beyond. Oak Ridge, TN and Berkeley, CA: Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. ORNL-444 and LBNL-40533. September. Full Report in PDF format

Updated Report Notes
The Interlaboratory Study reports that an annual reduction of approximately 390 MtC puts the U.S. back to its 1990 carbon emissions level; however, this statement is based on the estimate of 2010 carbon emissions put forth in the Energy Information Administration's Annual Energy Outlook, 1997 (1730 MtC). The Annual Energy Outlook, 1998 has revised the forecast of U.S. carbon emissions in 2010 to be 1803 MtC/year; consequently, based on the emissions reductions estimated in the study, 2010 emissions would exceed 1990 emissions by 15% (69 MtC/year). The study estimates only emissions reductions within the U.S. The authors believe that the U.S. will be able to meet its Kyoto carbon reduction obligations using a combination of domestic carbon reduction options and emissions credits purchased from overseas.

Other Resources

Beating the heat: Why and how we must combat global warming. This book provides a good introduction for the lay person to the issues surrounding climate change, and the potential solutions.

American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE): This non-profit organization promotes energy efficiency and pollution prevention through education, analysis, and advocacy.

Environmental Protection Agency's Global Warming Site: This site describes the scope of the climate problem, exploring both scientific and policy dimensions

International Project for Sustainable Energy Paths: This non-profit organization analyzes the costs of reducing carbon emissions and addresses the policy issues surrounding the design of sustainable energy strategies.

Tellus Institute, Energy Group: This organization is a non-profit consulting firm that analyzes greenhouse gas mitigation strategies and other energy policy issues

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network (EREN): This part of DOE promotes the development and adoption of efficiency and renewable energy technologies. It also works with EPA to design voluntary programs to promote energy efficiency and reduce pollution.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Division: This part of EPA designs voluntary programs to promote energy efficiency and reduce pollution.