Innovative Research Analysis Award Program

Through the Innovative Research Analysis Award Program (IRAAP), the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis provided more than $1 million in funding for research that works toward a more sustainable global energy economy. IRAAP funded collaborative, multidisciplinary research that:

  • Encompasses an integrated systems perspective
  • Considers the implications of findings in economic, social, and environmental terms
  • Applies at local, domestic, and international scales
  • Leads to significant global impacts on energy sector transformation


2014 Innovative Research Analysis Awards

Impacts of Renewable Energy Technologies on Water Resources and Food Security: A Case Study of Large Solar Installations in Northwestern India.

This case study will investigate land use and water consumption for solar electricity generation in the northwestern region of India under current and future scenarios, and explore opportunities for co-locating solar infrastructure and agricultural crops or biofuels to maximize efficiency of land and water use. Results will help clarify the energy-water-land tradeoffs associated with the rapid expansion of solar infrastructure in rural areas.

Collaborators: National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Stanford University

Water Intensity and Resource Impacts of Unconventional Hydrocarbon Development

Using data from ~25,000 hydraulically fractured U.S. shale wells, this study will quantify intra- and inter-play variability in specific water use intensity, along with how the intensity varies over time. The analysis will show how intensity depends strongly on a well's productive life owing to the temporally asymmetric nature of water demand and energy production from unconventional wells. The study will compare water demands to available water resources at the county level in the major U.S. unconventional oil and gas plays. The impacts of re-fracturing on water intensity will be determined, and the potential pathways for reducing freshwater demand through technology development and the increased use of lower quality water sources will be explored.

Collaborators: National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Changing Climate and Water Impacts on the Future of Electricity

The electricity sector is the largest withdrawer of freshwater in the United States. Most of the water is utilized for cooling in thermal electric power plants. Climate change has the potential to alter the temporal distribution and quantity of available freshwater resources. Such changes could affect the reliability of existing power plants as well as decisions on what, and where, new generation technologies are built. Already, power plants throughout the United States have had to curtail generation or shut down due to water-related restrictions. This work proposes to evaluate the sensitivity of the electricity sector to climate-related changes in water resource availability. This work proposes to evaluate the sensitivity of the electricity sector to climate-related changes in water resource availability using the Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) capacity expansion model with climate-dependent water availability constraints.

Collaborators: National Renewable Energy Laboratory and University of Colorado, Boulder

2013 Innovative Research Analysis Awards

Improving Hydropower Operational Models for Integrating High Penetrations of Renewable Energy

Read article: Enhancing hydropower modeling in variable generation integration studies. Energy Volume 74, September 2014.

Variable generation penetration into the electric power system in the Western United States would likely lead to increased demand for flexible resources. Hydropower is a resource that already exists and is physically capable of providing flexibility but must meet a complex mix of constraints that often prevail over electricity generation. Researchers will explore the contribution that a more accurate representation of hydropower could have to the electric system and the integration of variable generation.

Collaborators: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, University of Colorado at Boulder

Creation of an Energy Specific Computable General Equilibrium Model to Analyze State Level Policy

This proposed project will integrate the best capabilities of three distinct socioeconomic modeling systems in to one computable general equilibrium (CGE) model. This research will produce a new proof of concept energy-specific model that can help state and federal decision makers assess far reaching impacts of investments in different energy technologies.

Collaborators: Colorado State University, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Accelerating the Pace of Residential Energy Efficiency Retrofits

Read article: Developing a pre-retrofit energy consumption metric to model post-retrofit energy savings: Phase one of a three-phase research initiative. Energy and Buildings Volume 80, September 2014

Researchers will investigate how to reduce the time and costs associated with home energy audits and increase the uptake rate of home energy retrofits. The end result will be a model that predicts for home heating slope and subsequently potential for retrofit. The benefit of this model will be the capacity to predict which homes might be good candidates for retrofit without access to utility bills or a visit to the home.

Collaborators: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

2012 Innovative Research Analysis Awards

Integration of Low-Temperature Geothermal Resources with Other Power Generation Technologies to Improve System Performance and Resource Utilization

See project poster.

The low-temperature (<150°C) geothermal resource base for the U.S. is estimated to be >500 GW, but is under-utilized largely due to the current limitations on geothermal power plant technology. One potential way to better utilize the large low-temperature resource would be to use the warm fluid to augment energy inputs into other types of power plants (e.g., waste-to-energy and biomass). This project will conduct a techno-economic analysis that compares augmented versus non-augmented power plants. Expected results include: 1) identification of promising novel applications for low-temperature geothermal resources, and 2) insight into the impact that low-temperature geothermal could have on other energy resources.

Collaborators: Colorado State University, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Fostering Robust Ancillary Service Markets in Non-Restructured Regions of the Western Power Grid

See project poster.

This research will provide advanced technical, market, and legal-regulatory analysis of needs and barriers with respect to the proposed regional energy imbalance market (EIM) for the western interconnection. This information will provide market participants and state and federal regulators with a more transparent view of a future EIM, identify potential regulatory and policy problems before they emerge, and allow for more efficient planning in both the private and public sectors of the electricity market with respect to the EIM.

Collaborators: University of Colorado at Boulder, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
In-kind Collaborator: RASEI

Multi-metric Sustainability Analysis

See project poster.

Read JISEA technical paper.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Colorado School of Mines is partnering on the development of a multi-metric sustainability framework and analysis. The objective is to compare the sustainability of conventional and renewable technologies using a suite of study-relevant indicators, including metrics in social, economic and environmental categories. Comparisons can be made between different or similar technologies, in different ecosystems, and for different end goals. The approach will capture quantitative analysis results where available and represent the value of non-monetized benefits of alternative technologies. With funding from JISEA, we would seek to establish a core set of metrics for evaluation, conduct a literature search on state-of-the-science analytical approaches and qualitative findings for each metric, and identify areas where new tools and approaches are needed.

Collaborators: Colorado School of Mines, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Marginal Lands Availability in the United States

Read article: Renewable energy potential on marginal lands in the United States. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. Vol. 29. January 2014.

See project poster.

The project intends to define and identify the marginal lands in the United States, as well as assess their renewable energy potential, including biomass, wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. The researchers will integrate and analyze various environmental data (e.g. soil, topography, climate, land use/cover) and apply geospatial techniques using state-of-the-art geographic information systems (GIS). The results will be presented in a tabular and geospatial format (maps). This study will be the first to provide detailed information on marginal lands in the United States. It aims to provide policy makers and industry developers with a better understanding of the marginal lands availability in the country and thus guide their future strategic decisions.

Collaborators: Stanford University, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

2011 Innovative Research Analysis Awards

Integration of a Computable General Equilibrium Model with an Electricity Sector Optimization Model to Assess the Economic Impacts of U.S. Climate Policy

See project poster.

Read article: Distributional and efficiency impacts of clean and renewable energy standards for electricity. Resource and Energy Economics. Volume 36, Issue 2, May 2014.

This project developed the capability to perform a comprehensive analysis of U.S. climate policy by combining the strengths of both an economy-wide, "top-down" computable general equilibrium model (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's U.S. Regional Energy Policy model or USREP) and a technology-rich "bottom-up" electric-sector-only model (NREL's Regional Energy Deployment System model or ReEDS). This resulted in an innovative analysis tool to examine economy-wide impacts of climate and energy policy. The integrated model framework is applied to analyze the efficiency and distributional implications of a Clean Energy Standard policy in the U.S. electric power sector.

Collaborators: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

A Combined Nuclear and Renewable Solution to Decarbonizing the Electric Sector

See project poster.

Read article: Decarbonizing the Electric Sector: Combining Renewable and Nuclear Energy using Thermal Storage. Energy Policy. Vol. 44, May 2012.

This project investigated the potential compatibility of a high renewable energy grid with load-following nuclear power plants. Using a systems approach, it described combinations of wind, solar, and nuclear that can provide a large fraction of a system's electricity, along with the characteristics of high-temperature nuclear power plants needed to support these scenarios.

Collaborators: Colorado School of Mines, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
In-kind Collaborator: University of Wisconsin at Madison

Financial Models for Electric Utility Market Transformation

Read article: Evaluation of Existing Customer-owned, On-site Distributed Generation Business Models. The Electricity Journal. Vol. 27. January-February 2014.

See project poster.

Distributed generation (DG) technologies can enable diffusion of energy choice, appropriate energy systems, and clean energy technologies. But traditional utility business models can discourage DG deployment. This study identifies the business model that utility customers are using to justify DG development and installation, and quantifies the deleterious effect of DG on traditional utility business models. Finally, alternative business models are evaluated for potential to recognize and monetize the potential benefits of DG resources.

Collaborators: Colorado State University, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
In-kind Collaborator: Rocky Mountain Institute

Power System Balancing with High Renewable Penetration: the Potential of Demand Response in Hawai'i

Read article: Power systems balancing with high penetration renewables: The potential of demand response in Hawaii. Energy Conversion and Management. Vol. 76. December 2013.

See project poster.

The State of Hawai'i has targeted a renewable energy mix that will (according to traditional methodology) rely on additional expensive spinning reserve or energy storage to balance the electrical grid. This study investigated Demand Response (DR), an alternate strategy in which the grid operator ensures system stability by managing select consumers' loads. A stochastic unit commitment model simulated the relative production of wind, thermal, and demand response resources and predicted the frequency, duration, and scope of curtailment events necessary to maintain grid balance. Similar utility direct load control programs were benchmarked to investigate best practices for program design. Demand Response provided a lower-cost solution to balancing intermittent supplies, which may enable Hawai'i to achieve its goals for reduced energy dependence.

Collaborators: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

2010 Innovative Research Analysis Awards

Verifiable Decision-making Algorithms for Reconfiguration of Electric Microgrids

See project poster.

Read paper in IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid

Read paper presented at 2011 IEEE Trondheim PowerTech.

Researchers worked to discover new algorithms for reconfiguration of electric power microgrids subject to specific objectives such as maximized economic benefits and minimized losses. They used detailed modeling and simulation along with formal verification techniques for validation of these algorithms, addressing issues such as reliability and cyber-security. The research has yielded new topologies and operations aspects of electric power microgrids that will accelerate the penetration of renewables in the grid.

Collaborators: Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Boulder

Impact of Alkalinity Sources on the Life Cycle Energy Efficiency of CO2 Mineralization Technologies

Read article: CO2 Mitigation Potential of Mineral Carbonation with Industrial Alkalinity Sources in the United States. Environmental Science & Technology. Vol. 47. June 2013.

Read article: Impact of alkalinity sources on the life-cycle energy efficiency of mineral carbonation technologies. Energy & Environmental Science. Vol. 5. July 2012.

See project poster.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) mineralization has been proposed as a method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion in a scalable manner. Mineralization produces a safe, stable form of CO2, which could be an advantage over conventional carbon capture and storage, where safety and regulatory matters are a concern. A promising mineralization technology is highly dependent on efficient and inexpensive alkalinity generation or extraction. Researchers assessed the usefulness of several potential alkalinity sources. The information is directly usable in life cycle assessments of mineralization-based CO2 capture systems.

Collaborators: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University

Waste Not, Want Not: Analyzing the Economic and Environmental Viability of Waste to Energy (WTE) Technology for Site-specific Optimization of Renewable Energy Options

See project poster.

Read JISEA technical paper.

Waste-to-energy (WTE) technology burns municipal waste in an environmentally safe incinerator to generate electricity, provide district heat, and reduce the need for landfill disposal. While this technology has gained acceptance in Europe, it has yet to be commonly recognized as an option in the United States. This study investigated the environmental, policy, economic, and technical factors that have contributed to the success of the technology abroad, and considered how they are likely to impact the adoption of the technology in the United States. WTE has been incorporated into NREL's Renewable Energy Optimization (REO) tool, which allows it to be considered alongside other renewable energy options and serve to introduce the technology to a broad audience, which will help advance the technology in the United States.

Collaborators: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, University of Colorado at Boulder

Energy - Water Nexus in a Drying West: A Case Study Analysis and Methodology

See project poster.

Researchers analyzed the intersection of energy generation and transmission planning, water demands, climate change, and agricultural water use to determine the water impacts of different energy and climate change scenarios. A case study analysis of the South Platte River Basin in Northeastern Colorado was used to evaluate energy generation risk and resiliency in the face of changing and uncertain water availability in the West. The results will provide a template for both utilities and key policymakers in developing long-term energy and transmission planning strategies that meet not only energy but also water demands while protecting valuable natural resources.

Collaborators: Colorado State University, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, University of Colorado at Boulder

A GIS-based Mapping and Optimization Tool to Aid Siting, Design and Assessment of Utility Scale Energy Development

See project poster.

Read JISEA technical report.

Siting large-scale solar projects is complex and solar developers must take into consideration many environmental, social, and economic factors when evaluating a potential site, in addition to the quality of the solar resource. This research developed a proof-of-concept web-based GIS tool that evaluates multiple user-defined criteria in an optimization algorithm to inform discussions and decisions regarding the locations of large-scale solar projects. This tool could be expanded to optimize siting decisions for other mineral and energy developments, and could also be utilized to better understand the cumulative effects of multiple developments on a region. Energy resource and infrastructure information from all energy sectors was consolidated to provide a unique mechanism to comprehensively evaluate a proposed energy project or select a site for a new energy project while considering varying degrees of preference for economic considerations and environmental effects.

Collaborators: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Stanford University

Toward an Improved Methodology for Comparing Water-related Environmental Impacts of Electricity Generation: A Preliminary Analysis of Concentrating Solar Power Data

See project poster.

Read JISEA technical report.

Water is a critical commodity, and its use is an important factor to consider when evaluating large industrial systems such as power plants. Current water analyses ignore important attributes of water (e.g., salinity, flow rate, temperature) that can vary spatially, temporally, and across electricity-generating technologies, and they do not take into account broader environmental and/or socio-economic impacts. This research analyzed the inputs, internal uses, and outputs of water in concentrating solar power (CSP) facilities in an effort to develop more comprehensive and accurate metrics for water use by electricity generating technologies. Further research is necessary to fully consolidate these attributes and broader impacts to allow for fair and accurate comparisons across competing technologies. Results would assist utility regulators, water resource managers, electricity resource planners, and others to understand the water quality and quantity impact of electricity-generating technology choices.

Collaborators: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Stanford University, University of Colorado at Boulder