Designs for Net-Zero Energy Systems: Meta-Analysis of U.S. Economy-Wide Decarbonization Studies

A growing number of countries including the United States have pledged to reach net-zero emissions across their economies. Meeting these commitments requires an informed view of the design of net-zero energy systems.

GTI Energy’s report, Designs for Net-Zero Energy Systems: Meta-Analysis of U.S. Economy-Wide Decarbonization Studies (“Meta NZ”), provides a comparative analysis of five U.S. economy-wide net-zero studies developed by the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative, Open Energy Outlook, Evolved Energy Research, Princeton University, and Decarb America. By harmonizing results across multiple studies, Meta NZ offers fresh insights into the pathways and possibilities for U.S. economy-wide decarbonization. There is no single design for net-zero energy systems. Each of these studies points to a diverse mix of solutions underpinned by innovative technologies, versatile energy carriers, and supporting infrastructure.

Lesley Jantarasami

Energy Program Managing Director, Bipartisan Policy Center

We’re excited that Decarb America’s modeling results are being used to generate new insights about what it will take to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions across the U.S. economy by 2050. With multiple pathways for reaching our net-zero goals examined in this report, it reinforces the urgency to now implement a well-planned transition to a clean energy economy.

Michael Blackhurst

Executive Director, Open Energy Outlook Initiative, Carnegie Mellon University

Drawing fair comparisons between energy system models is a challenging task given their complexity and different modeling assumption, however, doing so is important and insightful. Comparisons provide helpful feedback to individual modeling teams and add important nuance to the policy decisions informed by model results. GTI Energy has done a thoughtful job in their analysis and reporting. We appreciate being included in their study.

Neva Espinoza

Vice President, Energy Supply and Low-Carbon Resources, Electric Power Research Institute

This study brings to the forefront overarching energy transition realities that have emerged through the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative. Our research shows that driving decarbonization across the economy is a team sport – one that rests on harnessing the full value of clean energy technologies through close collaboration across all stakeholders, from technology development to deployment to commercial operation.

Ryan Jones

Co-founder, Evolved Energy Research

Being a relatively new field of study, cross-study comparison is an essential step in the maturation of long-term energy planning for achieving net-zero emissions.

Paula Gant

President and CEO, GTI Energy

Success in building low-carbon and low-cost energy systems requires strategic decision-making and action-taking guided by a systems perspective. Drawing on well-researched analysis of the technologies, solutions and infrastructure that can inform actions this decade, the Meta NZ report synthesizes expert perspectives of diverse pathways for consideration and comparison, to fulfill our ambitions of decarbonizing U.S. energy systems by mid-century.

Cameron Wade

Principal, Open Energy Outlook, Sutubra Research

As macro-energy system models become increasingly complex, understanding the structure and assumptions of individual models is vital. This meta-analysis plays an important role in this respect, by clarifying these elements and distilling key findings between models, thereby providing a more nuanced perspective on the evolving landscape of the energy transition.

Florian A. Schneider, Ph.D.

Senior Research Advisor, Third Way

Cross-study comparisons consider a wealth of possible pathways and insights to inform how we can reach our net-zero goals effectively. We must continue to prioritize this kind of comparison to better understand the full scope of investments needed to deliver a carbon-free future.

Commonalities among U.S. economy-wide, net-zero studies:

line drawing of wind turbine, solar panels and sun representing the renewables icon

Renewables grow the supply of low-carbon energy. Wind and solar electricity generation expands dramatically from today’s levels, while biomass resources are increasingly leveraged for low-carbon fuels production.

line drawing of electric vehicle with cord and plug representing the electricity expands icon

Electricity expands across sectors. Increasing numbers of electric vehicles, equipment, and appliances are adopted across sectors, with total electricity generation doubling or more than tripling today’s levels.

line drawing of gas pump nozzle and blue leaves representing the fuel diversity icon

Fuels diversify and serve multiple markets. Fuels continue to supply roughly half of all energy delivered to end-use customers, with growing shares of hydrogen, and increased deployment of bioenergy and synthetic fuels technologies for producing liquid fuels and pipeline gas.

line drawing of air handling fan within an appliance with a electric bolt representing the energy efficiency icon

Efficiency reduces energy consumption while enabling economic growth. Efficiency gains across energy value chains, particularly for electric vehicles and heat pumps, drive reductions in total energy consumption while satisfying the growing demands of an expanding U.S. economy.

line drawing of four fans within boxes representing the carbon removal icon

Carbon dioxide removal balances remaining emissions. Emissions are greatly reduced, with remaining positive emissions balanced by negative emissions approaches, such as growing the land sink, or deploying bioenergy and/or direct air capture technologies with carbon sequestration.