The technical potential exists for the U.S. electricity sector to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions substantially below the emissions forecast for the sector by the U.S. Energy Information Adminstration, says a report from the Electric Power Research Institute. The assessment of seven aggressive technology targets found the industry could achieve the reductions via measures already available or under development. Environmental advocates agree with EPRI’s assessment but contend that the targets are not ambitious enough.

Jeffrey Sterba, chairman of Palo Alto, Calif.-based EPRI, presented the findings to the CERAWeek Conference in Houston, a weeklong gathering of energy industry leaders sponsored by Cambridge Energy Research Associates, Cambridge, Mass. Sterba noted that the U.S. produces one-quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions, and the electricity sector produces one-third of U.S. emissions. Last summer, EPRI’s board asked the institute to estimate the technical potential for CO2 emission reductions from the U.S. electricity sector.

EPRI’s assessment makes no claims to perfection or even to represent an industry consensus. The assessment focused strictly on what is technically possible. “We assume there are zero barriers from an economic or a policy standpoint,” says Revis James, director of EPRI’s technology assessment center. Within 25 years, through accelerated investment in electric technology research and development and aggressive deployment of the resulting technologies, the industry could achieve CO2 emission reductions beating the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s forecast for the sector by some 40%, the report claims (see chart).

The menu of technologies is not exotic. It includes incremental improvements in, for example, distributed energy resources and efficient energy use in homes, buildings and industry, as well as big-brush approaches such as expansion of the nuclear-generating fleet and improvements in new coal-fired generation unit efficiency. All have been on the table for years, but they must be greatly improved to hit EPRI’s targets. EPRI officials describe the programs for deployment of the improved technologies as “reasonable but aggressive.”

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Follow the Map

“‘Reasonable’ describes how we would get from today to the future” following industry road maps already drawn up, says James. The target is 46% efficiency for a pulverized-coal-fired powerplant in 2030, for example. “It’s an aggressive assumption,” he concedes, but EPRI and the Coal Users Research Council already have set the target for themselves. The efficiency of rooftop photovoltaic cells must be boosted to 20%-25% to make the renewable energy target, and “there’s no line of sight” for that, he says.

“There are no surprises here,” says Jeff Deyette, an energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, Cambridge. “They’re all reasonable in the sense that they’re not pie-in-the-sky technologies.” He criticizes some of the assumptions. The target for energy efficiency, for example, “may not be aggressive enough,” he says. “We’ve done analysis that shows we can get to 20% renewable-energy deployment by 2020,” yielding 180,000 MW of power, he adds. “Before we consider new nuclear power as a climate solution, the industry needs to get its act together” to make nuclear powerplants safer and affordable and address is-sues of waste disposal and nuclear proliferation, he says.