Sensitivity to Energy Technology Costs: A Multimodel Comparison Analysis


Future costs of low-carbon technology options are a key factor in determining the challenges of reducing greenhouse gases, as well as describing in detail the technology basis of lower emissions scenarios such as the RCP 2.6 and RCP 4.5 used in the Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) process. To explore the implications of uncertainty about future technology costs, a team of scientists led by Haewon McJeon from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory used information provided by multiple expert elicitation surveys on the future cost of key low-carbon technologies and used it as input for three integrated assessment models. The team’s large set of simulations using the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), Market Allocation Model of the U.S. energy system (MARKAL_US), and World Induced Technical Change Hybrid model (WITCH) were used to assess the implications of technology performance probability distributions over key model outputs. They were able to detect which sources of technology uncertainty are more influential, how this differs across models, and whether and how results are affected by the time horizon, the metric considered, or the stringency of the carbon-reduction strategies considered. The team found that the future emission trajectory is most responsive to the capital cost of nuclear power plants. Under the climate-constrained scenarios, they found that the cost of biofuel processing also has a large impact, especially when coupled with carbon capture and storage to produce negative emissions. Overall, this effort improves understanding of uncertainty in emissions scenarios and improves the utility of models to inform technology research and development.


Bosetti, V., G. Marangoni, E. Borgonovo, L. D. Anadon, R. Barron, H. C. McJeon, S. Politis, and P. Friley. 2015. “Sensitivity to Energy Technology Costs: A Multi-Model Comparison Analysis,” Energy Policy 80, 244–63. DOI:10.1016/j.enpol.2014.12.012.