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The Future of Energy in North America

We assisted the Western Electricity Coordinating Council’s (WECC’s) scenario development project for the United States Department of Energy, for which representatives from industry, state, provincial and national government, tribes, environmental groups, and technology and consumer groups comprised a multi-stakeholder group responsible for developing the scenarios.

The focus question of the scenario exercise was: How will demand for electric power services in the WECC regions change in the next 10 and 20 years, and how will electric power supply services (and related transmission networks) change to accommodate that demand? An additional key question concerned renewable energy: How much and what types of renewable energy sources will come online in the next 10 to 20 years, and how should the transmission grid evolve accordingly? This was a fascinating line of inquiry for those concerned about renewable energy, in that it dove into the heart of issues concerning local, regional, and national economic development, stewardship of natural resources, policy, and public and private investment.

Our big lesson was that it’s not a question of if, but instead only of when and how, renewable energy will become mainstream in the USA. The idea of going “back” to non-renewables is no longer feasible, economically, politically, or culturally.  Whew!

For the stakeholders, the combination of scenario narratives and related numeric models provided a comprehensive set of plausible future supply and resource conditions and policy decisions. The scenarios and subsequent analysis formed a comprehensive package of stakeholder-vetted, regional planning models, data, and transmission plans for North America’s western grid. The scenarios were completed and released in 2013.

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