What is different about different net-zero carbon electricity systems?

Ejeong Baik, Kiran P. Chawla, Jesse D. Jenkins, Clea Kolster, Neha S. Patankar, Arne Olson, Sally M. Benson, Jane C.S. Long

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


In deeply decarbonized electricity systems with significant shares of variable renewable energy, the additional availability of at least one firm electricity generating technology can overcome reliability challenges and substantially reduce electricity costs. Firm resources can operate at any time of the year and for as long as needed to maintain electricity system reliability. Low- and zero-carbon firm technologies include flexible resources with high variable and low capital costs, such as biogas or hydrogen combustion, capital-intensive resources with low or zero variable cost, including nuclear and geothermal, as well as intermediate resources such as natural gas plants with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). This paper explains the distinct roles of nuclear, CCS, and combustion of zero-carbon fuels in decarbonized electricity systems as examples of each class of firm resources. We analyze and compare results from three long-term electricity system capacity expansion models for California and the U.S. Western Interconnection, demonstrating robustness of our conclusions to different model assumptions and domains. Individually, each firm technology delivers substantial cost reductions relative to portfolios restricted to wind, solar, and energy storage alone. Additionally, because each technology occupies a distinctive functional niche in the electricity system, having all of these technologies available optimizes the utilization rate of each resource and reduces system costs by up to 10% relative to cases with just one class of firm resource. The analysis highlights the benefits of an expansive range of technology options to meet emissions reductions goals for the power sector while maintaining operational reliability and affordability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100046
JournalEnergy and Climate Change
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


  • Clean firm resources
  • Decarbonization
  • Electricity
  • Macro-energy systems


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