Renewable Energy and Efficiency Technologies in Scenarios of U.S. Decarbonization in Two Types of Models: Comparison of GCAM Modeling and Sector-Specific Modeling

Matthew Binsted, Harry Suchyta, Ying Zhang, Laura Vimmerstedt, Matt Mowers, Catherine Ledna, Matteo Muratori, Chioke Harris

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Energy system projections from quantitative models inform actions ranging from short-term and local decisions, such as those about technology and infrastructure deployment, and global and long-term negotiations and targets. Computational limits require model designers to balance coverage and resolution (i.e., breadth versus depth). Some models, such as the Global Change Analysis Model (GCAM), represent all energy sources and uses with less resolution than models that focus on a single sector's energy use. GCAM balances global supply and demand of all energy carriers projecting prices using internal calculations for energy sources and costs of greenhouse gas mitigation while capturing interlinkages between the energy system, water, agriculture and land use, the economy, and the climate. This globally comprehensive model was used to frame the Long-Term Strategy of the United States: Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050, which the White House released in 2021 and has been used to inform national and global economy-wide climate change mitigation discussions and strategy development for decades. Unlike GCAM, sectoral models focus on a portion of the energy sector and with greater detail and resolution. The Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) electricity-sector model, for example, projects electricity system capacity expansion and operation with high-fidelity representation of emerging technologies for deep decarbonization, such as variable renewable energy and energy storage, and integration of these technologies into the electric grid. The Transportation Energy and Mobility Pathway Options (TEMPO) transportation-sector model enables analysis of household choices, with a focus on adoption, charging, and use of electric vehicles. The Scout buildings-sector model supports detailed consideration of the policies and markets that can accelerate the adoption of electrification and energy conservation measures in buildings. Such sector-specific models are instrumental in informing technology research, sectoral planning strategies, and sector-specific aspects of greenhouse gas mitigation strategies in the United States. The integrated multisector and sector-specific modeling approaches represented by GCAM and these sectoral models are complementary. The integrated multisector approach calculates energy pricing and resource allocation within the model, which is important for consistency when future conditions substantially diverge from current conditions in transformative scenarios. The sector-specific approach facilitates representation of granular details across spatial, temporal, technological, and market dimensions that enable exploration of particular interactions and trade-offs. This report presents the results of recent work to explore the differences and trade-offs between these approaches by comparing GCAM with the sector-specific ReEDS, TEMPO, and Scout models. The report compares both model structures and results, and it addresses their potential relevance and applications.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages137
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-84243


  • buildings sector
  • electricity sector
  • energy analysis
  • energy modeling
  • energy system projections
  • energy transformation
  • GCAM
  • Global Change Analysis Model
  • integrated assessment models
  • model structures
  • multisector modeling
  • ReEDS
  • Regional Energy Deployment Model
  • renewable energy
  • Scout model
  • Transportation Energy and Mobility Pathway Options model
  • transportation sector


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