Relative Cost-Effectiveness of Electricity and Transportation Policies as a Means to Reduce CO2 Emissions in the United States: A Multi-Model Assessment

Bryan Mignone, Matthew Binsted, Maxwell Brown, Darek Imadi, Haewon McJeon, Matthew Mowers, Sharon Showalter, Daniel Steinberg, Frances Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus Citations


Two common energy policy instruments in the United States are tax incentives and technology standards. Although these instruments have been shown to be less cost-effective as a means to reduce CO2 emissions than direct emissions pricing mechanisms, it can be challenging to compare the CO2 emissions reduction costs of such policies across sectors, given the wide range in estimates for any given policy and inconsistencies in how such estimates are constructed across studies. This study addresses this analytical gap by simultaneously comparing the cost-effectiveness of policies across the electricity and transportation sectors using three publicly available US energy system models (EM-NEMS, ReEDS, and GCAM-USA). Four policies are explicitly compared: wind and solar tax credits, a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), a renewable fuel standard (RFS), and an electric vehicle (EV) tax credit. An economy-wide carbon tax is used as a benchmark for cost-effectiveness. Results from this study confirm prior insights about the cost-effectiveness of economy-wide carbon pricing relative to sectoral instruments but also reveal several novel insights about particular sectoral policies. Specifically, this study finds that (1) current electricity tax incentives provide uneven support for wind and solar technologies, (2) despite known inefficiencies, renewable energy policies in the electricity sector are less expensive than earlier estimates due to technology advancement and changes in market conditions, (3) within transportation, an expanded RFS with increasing advanced biofuel targets is more cost-effective than an EV tax credit extension under plausible assumptions, (4) EV incentives lead to a rebound in conventional vehicle fuel economy that further erodes cost-effectiveness, and (5) the change in policy costs over time is not known a priori, but the relative cost ordering among these policies does not depend on the timeframe of analysis. These results are largely robust to the underlying modeling framework, increasing the confidence with which they can be applied to climate policy evaluation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)192-214
Number of pages23
JournalEconomics of Energy and Environmental Policy
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 International Association for Energy Economics. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5C00-76544


  • Abatement cost
  • Climate policy
  • Energy modeling


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