Exploring Equality and Sustainability Trade-Offs of Energy Transition Outcomes in the United States in 2050: Article No. 123376

Teagan Goforth, Destenie Nock, Maxwell Brown, Tapajyoti Ghosh, Patrick Lamers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


With increasing focus on equitable and just energy transition, it is critical to understand the trade-offs of different decarbonization outcomes across economic, environmental, and social sustainability criteria. In this analysis, we use a multi-criteria decision analysis to quantify sustainability outcomes across 32 decarbonization outcomes in 2050 in the U.S. The economic sustainability criteria we use are system cost, national average retail rate, and electricity system employment. The environmental sustainability criteria we use are life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, life cycle water depletion, life cycle land transformation, and air pollution fatalities. The social sustainability (distributional impacts) criteria we use are retail rate equality across states, electricity employment equality across low-income households, and air pollution disparities across census tracts. We evaluate performance across these criteria under eleven different stakeholder preference scenarios. We find that decarbonization policies with indefinitely extended tax credits have the highest sustainability score under equal criteria weighting, with greater investments in renewable energy technologies, and result in better environmental, system cost, job, and air pollution disparities compared to mid-case scenarios, that only include current policies and CO2 reduction targets. We also see that our multi-criteria decision analysis identifies decarbonization outcomes that would not have been identified as optimal under a single objective, which highlights the importance of trade-off analyses to understand decarbonization outcomes more holistically.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages13
JournalApplied Energy
StatePublished - 2024

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-88905


  • distributional impacts
  • energy transition
  • multi-criteria decision analysis
  • sustainability


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