Integrated Infrastructure Flow Assessment of the United States’ Electricity Sector Under Climate Constraints

EPA Grant Number: FP917342
Title: Integrated Infrastructure Flow Assessment of the United States’ Electricity Sector Under Climate Constraints
Investigators: Izard, Catherine F
Institution: Carnegie Mellon University
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Science & Technology for Sustainability: Green Energy/Natural Resources Production & Use , Academic Fellowships


The combined pressures of climate change, energy security, supply and increasing demand will require rapid decarbonization (reducing the greenhouse gas intensity) of the electricity sector over the next 50 years. Large reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power sector will require a sustained commitment to new capacity construction; society is likely to have to maintain a high annual build rate of new capacity for decades. Unfortunately, there may be physical constraints on the rate at which electricity infrastructure can be built, due to massive inertia in the electricity sector and potential short-term shortages of energy-critical materials and labor. This project evaluates how several climate policy decision variables drive the rate of construction in the electricity sector. It then evaluates whether this construction is vulnerable to supply shortages in energy-critical materials and identifies low-risk infrastructure development pathways.


This project develops the Integrated Infrastructure Flow Analysis (IIFA) methodology, a flexible, integrated, systems based multi-criteria decisionmaking tool that can provide insights into the impact of climate policies on infrastructure. IIFA estimates the amount of new electricity capacity construction needed in the United States each year to simultaneously meet both demand and an exogenously specified GHG emission constraint as a function of the severity and timeline of those constraints and a specified new technology portfolio. IIFA then examines the implications of electricity capacity construction on energycritical resource consumption in a global context to see if projected consumption is significantly larger than historical rates of production and consumption and thus might be vulnerable to supply disruption. The end result will be a portfolio of infrastructure development pathways that best avoid unintended roadblocks.

Expected Results:

The project will develop IIFA, a decision-making tool that can identify pathways for sustainable infrastructure development over time. The research will identify carbon dioxide emissions reductions pathways and technology portfolios that could be successful at meeting emissions requirements in the U.S. electricity sector. The research also will identify potential material bottlenecks to decarbonization of the electricity sector, providing early notice of which energy-critical materials and/or technologies may require substitution, and thus allowing time for research and development to develop alternatives to costly scarce materials and identifying any metals that may be of strategic concern to the United States. This is especially important in the context of rapid increases in specialty metal consumption by the developing world as well as the increased use of geographically centralized scarce metal resources.

Potential to Further Environmental / Human Health Protection

Climate change is a serious threat to the environment and human welfare, as the endangerment finding shows. This analysis identifies which electricity sector development strategies increase the chance of successful, rapid decarbonization. A system-wide analysis of the decarbonization of the U.S. electricity sector such as this one will identify impacts that are not apparent from smaller scale analyses, and has the possibility to inform national policy to mitigate them.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, electricity, infrastructure, material flow analysis, resource management

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final