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Energy and Climate Change Research

Changes in how we produce and use energy can have significant impacts on human health and affect air and water quality and other measures of environmental quality. Energy technologies are changing rapidly, improving efficiency and environmental sustainability. EPA researchers are improving our understanding of how changes in energy production and use can impact climate change and the environment and how climate change can impact energy production. The ways that energy is produced and used are changing in many areas, including:

  • Growing numbers of vehicles that use electricity
  • More electricity generation from wind and solar plants
  • Substantial use of biofuels

It is important to understand how increasing or decreasing one source of energy can affect the other sources and lead to different consequences for the environment. Using wind power to generate electricity, for example, changes how and when electricity is needed from other types of power plants, which can affect the environment in multiple ways. For instance, biofuels do not generate as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as gasoline, but production of crops for biofuels requires more land area and uses more water than production of the same amount of energy in the form of gasoline.

EPA, states, communities and tribes need detailed projections of potential future air pollution emissions from energy sources to analyze strategies for meeting or maintaining the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. To address this need, researchers are developing modeling tools to study the nation’s energy system with a focus on environmental changes related to energy production and use.

Energy Modeling Tools

COMET (City-based Optimization Model for Energy Technologies) -- COMET is an energy-environment-economic optimization model. COMET is designed to capture the whole energy system at the city level for a user-defined analyses timeline, from the introduction of the energy sources to conversion into useful energy to meet end-use energy service demands.

COMET allows users to examine the next 40-50 years of energy technology evolution. The model provides long-term prospects for practical and applicable energy policy solutions, especially for cities that aim to achieve emissions reduction targets. The model results reveal how the energy system can be balanced under a different set of scenario assumptions, and how system costs and resulting emissions change with respect to those scenarios. The insights gained from this analysis will help city officials and their stakeholders better design policies to reduce emissions.


GLIMPSE Model -- GLIMPSE is a decision support modeling tool being developed by EPA that will assist states with energy and environmental planning through the year 2050. Users of GLIMPSE can explore the impacts of energy technologies and policies on the environment.  For example, GLIMPSE can examine measures that promote energy efficiency, estimating the resulting energy savings, analyzing how emissions and air quality would be affected, and reporting how energy-related water use would change. Additional technologies that could be analyzed include electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, wind and solar power, and carbon capture and sequestration.

An exciting feature is that users can specify energy, air quality, and water use goals within GLIMPSE, which then identifies cost-effective strategies for meeting those goals.  For example, states could use GLIMPSE to develop air quality management strategies that also meet renewable electricity targets, energy security objectives, and factor in how droughts could affect power plant operations.


EPAUS9rT (Regional-scale representation of the U.S. system) -- EPA has developed a database for use in the TIMES energy system model that accounts for environmental impacts related to energy production and use. TIMES is an energy system optimization model used by local and federal governments, national and international communities and academia. It helps decision makers understand how changes in the amount or cost of one type of energy (solar energy, for instance) can affect the rest of the energy system in complex ways. Understanding these changes allow us to better understand the environmental consequences of changes in technologies and costs in the energy sector. The EPA database, known as EPAUS9rT, allows users to examine these changes for nine regions across the U.S.


Related Resources

  • Biofuels -- Biofuels are any fuels derived from plants or animal waste. 
  • Biofuels and the Environment: Second Triennial Report to Congress (2018) -- This report is the second of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) triennial reports to Congress required under the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). EISA Section 204 calls for EPA to report to Congress on the environmental and resource conservation impacts of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program, specifically air and water quality, water quantity, ecosystem health and biodiversity, soil quality, invasive species, and international environmental impacts
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