CU Boulder RASEI Decarbonization Report December 2020

Jeffrey Logan, associate director for policy and analysis at RASEI and co-author of the report, each sector contains policy options that offer practical building blocks for federal, state and local government decision-makers.

Solar grid panels

Researchers at CU Boulder’s Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI) on Thursday released a report outlining key steps the U.S. can take to drive carbon dioxide emissions to zero.  RASEI (pronounced RAY-see) is a joint institute between the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) addressing important, complex problems in energy that require a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional approach. Its mission is to expedite solutions that transform energy by advancing renewable energy science, engineering, and analysis through research, education, and industry partnerships.

Download the full report

The report, Accelerating the U.S. Clean Energy Transformation: Challenges and Solutions by Sector, explains why urgent and comprehensive action is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change; describes low- and zero-carbon solutions in the electricity, buildings, transportation and industrial sectors; and presents policy options for each. It also provides an overview of technologies that have the potential to remove the high levels of carbon dioxide that humankind has already added to the atmosphere.

The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but is responsible for about 25% of historic carbon dioxide emissions and needs to take a leadership role in addressing climate change,” lead author Charles Kutscher said. “We have already experienced severe climate change impacts, including extreme storms and flooding, extensive droughts and record wildfires.”

Because three-quarters of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are the result of the burning of fossil fuels for energy, the report zeroes in on ways to transition from fossil fuels to sustainable, carbon-free energy sources.

According to Jeffrey Logan, associate director for policy and analysis at RASEI and co-author of the report, each sector contains policy options that offer practical building blocks for federal, state and local government decision-makers. 

Here are some policy recommendations by sector from the report:


  • Set aggressive federal and state targets for clean electricity generation. Consider a carbon tax to accompany these targets, but it should not be used as a substitute for a clean energy mandate. 
  • Enact green stimulus in the power sector, especially for grid modernization, integration of electric vehicle charging, cybersecurity and advanced transmission interconnections.
  • Federal spending should be expanded to support increased research, development and deployment (RD&D) and administrative action on topics related to achieving high penetrations of renewable power generation, including high-resolution grid integration studies and long-duration storage, such as hydrogen and alternative battery chemistries.

Buildings & Controlled Charging

  • Maximize energy efficiency. In addition to reducing the amount of new electricity needed, this will limit the impact on utility bills and preserve resources.
  • Electrify all buildings to make use of the emerging renewable electricity grid. Employ modern heat pump systems to efficiently replace natural gas. Deployment should be coupled with energy efficiency improvements and rooftop and community photovoltaic systems.
  • Take advantage of building response capability to match electricity demand to variable renewable energy supply. This can be accomplished with controllable equipment, home energy management systems, home batteries and home electric vehicle charging used in conjunction with a smart grid.
  • Minimize embodied carbon emissions in building materials. Both new construction materials and those used for energy efficiency improvements should be chosen to minimize emissions released in the manufacture of building materials.


  • Transition all government light-duty vehicles to electric vehicles by 2025 and legislate a national moratorium on sales and production of light- and medium-duty internal combustion vehicles by 2030.
  • Adopt a progressive cash buy-back policy, especially focusing on the needs of low-income consumers.
  • Promote transportation mode shifting for both people and freight prioritizing mass transit, telecommuting, walkable communities and urban pedestrian zones.
  • Support the development of low- or near-zero-emission fuel alternatives for heavy-duty vehicles, including hydrogen, ammonia and selected biofuels, until such time as full electrification can be achieved.


  • Given the large role for process heat in industry, electrify as much of the heating requirement as possible, including the use of heat pumps for lower temperature needs.
  • Strengthen government efficiency standards for key components, such as motors and compressors.
  • Strengthen the federal RD&D effort aimed at reducing the cost of renewable hydrogen production and hydrogen storage. 
  • Launch a federal RD&D effort in collaboration with industry to convert processes from fuels to electricity and hydrogen.

The report also summarizes the various methods for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but cautions that such practices must not detract from the urgent need to stop burning fossil fuels. 

Kutscher said that with solar and wind now the lowest cost sources of electricity, the U.S. and the rest of the world are already transitioning to clean energy. But to tackle climate change, these technologies must be deployed much faster. 

“The good news is that committing to this clean energy transformation yields many benefits beyond addressing climate change,” he said. “We can eliminate the high healthcare costs associated with air pollution, create millions of good-paying jobs, and address systemic social justice issues all at the same time.” 

Big Energy Seminar Series

The RASEI Big Energy Seminar Series brings nationally and internationally recognized speakers with a focus on large, secure, sustainable energy systems to Colorado. RASEI’s goal is to promote a multidisciplinary understanding of the opportunities and challenges associated with developing and deploying the 21st century energy industries needed to meet the global energy challenge.

2020/2021 Big Energy Series Events

Dr. Martin Keller, NREL, Labartory Director. Future of Renewables. (PDF)

Emily Weiss, Mark and Nancy Ratner Professor, Department of Chemistry Northwestern University, Professor of Materials Science. Colloidal Photocatalysis for Energy Conversion and Organic Synthesis. (PDF)

2019 / 2020 Big Energy Series Events

Kang Xu, ARL Fellow, Team Leader of Extreme Electrochemistry Team, John USA Army Research Lab. Before Li-Ion Batteries, and Thereafter… (PDF)

Yue Qi, Professor in the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department, Associate Dean for Inclusion and Diversity in the College of Engineering and at Michigan State University. When ions meet electrons – Modeling the interfaces in Solid-State Batteries. (PDF)

2018 / 2019 Big Energy Series Events

Ana Somoza-Tornos, Technical University of Catalonia Center for Process and Environmental Engineering. Decision Support Strategies for the Efficient Implementation of Circular Economy Principles in Process Systems. (PDF)

Lucy Pao, Palmer Endowed Chair Professor, University of Colorado. Design and Control of Extreme-Scale Wind Turbines. (PDF)

Dennice Gayme, Associate Professor and Carol Croft Linde Faculty Scholar, John Hopkins University. Wind Farm Modeling and Control for Power Grid Support. (PDF)

Dr. Enrique Mallada, Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins University. Embracing Low Inertia in Power System Frequency Control: A Dynamic Droop Approach. (PDF)

Prof. M. Stanley Whittingham, Chemistry Department, State University of New York at Binghamton. What are the Chemistry and Materials Limitations to Advancing Lithium Batteries to the Next Level?. (PDF)

Heinz Frei, Chemist Senior Scientist Molecular Biophysics and Integrated Bioimaging Division Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Inorganic Core-Shell Nanotube Array for CO2 Photoreduction by H2O​.(PDF)

Dr. Emilie Ringe, University of Cambridge, Departments of Earth Sciences and Materials Science and Metallurgy. Earth-Abundant Plasmonics. (PDF)

James Allison, Associate Professor and the Jerry S. Dobrovolny Faculty Scholar at University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Integrated Physical and Control System Design: A Strategy for New Performance Levels in Renewable Energy Systems​. (PDF)

2017 / 2018 Big Energy Series Events

Magnus Korpås, Professor, Electric Power Systems, Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Small-scale vs large-scale storage systems for variable RES: Optimal investment and operation strategies. (PDF)

Wilson Smith, Associate Professor, Delft University of Technology. Enhancing electrocatalytic CO2 reduction using a system-integrated approach to catalyst discovery and optimization. (PDF)

Daniel Molzahn, Argonne National Laboratory, Energy Systems Division. Convex Relaxations of the Power Flow Equations: Overview and Selected Applications. (PDF)

Salvalai Graziano, Building Engineer, PhD – Assistant professor, Politecnico di Milano (Italy). High energy performance buildings: from passive to active design strategies. (PDF)

Dr. Yiyang Li, Harry Truman Fellow Sandia National Laboratories Livermore, California. Electrochemical ion insertion for energy storage and low-power, neuromorphic computing. (PDF)

Sean Meyn, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, Laboratory for Cognition & Control, University of Florida. Distributed Control Design for Balancing the Grid Using Flexible Loads. (PDF)

Professor Obadiah Reid, Assistant Research Professor-NREL, University of COlorado-Boulder. Energy and Charge Transfer in Molecular Materials: The Role of Quantum Coherence (PDF)

Mark O’Malley, Chief Scientist, Energy Systems Integration and Senior Research Fellow at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, USA. Energy Systems Modeling – The Good the bad and the Ugly (PDF)

Bart Doekemeijer, Ph.D, Delft Center for Systems & Control, Delft University of Technology. Coordinated Control in Wind Turbine Farms (PDF)

Professor Lili Cai, Ph.d, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University. Bridging Thermal Science and Nanomaterials for Sustainable Energy Applications (PDF)

Professor Bri-Mathias Hodge, Ph.d, Power Systems Design and Study Group Manager, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Designing a Sustainable Future: Simulating Next Generation Energy Systems (PDF)

John H. Golbeck, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Department of Chemistry, The Pennsylvania State University. How Type I Photosynthetic Reaction Centers Evolved to Adapt to the Great Oxygenation Event (PDF)

Professor N. Serdar Sariciftci, Linz Institute for Organic Solar Cells (LIOS), Physical Chemistry, Johannes Kepler, University Linz. Organic and Bio-organic Electronic Devices (PDF)

2016 / 2017 Big Energy Series Events

Professor Bjoern Baumeier Eindhoven University of Technology. Multiscale simulations of charge and energy dynamics in organic semiconductors with the VOTCA-XTP software. (PDF)

Professor Michael McGehee, Stanford University. Stable perovskite-silicon tandem solar cells with greater than 23% efficiency and a direction for smart windows. (PDF)

Howard M. Branz, Ph.D., Senior Research Associate, RASEI, Principal, Branz Technology Partners. What the heck is ARPA-E and how do I write winning proposals? (PDF)

Dr. Frank Spano, Temple University. Short- and Long-Range Excitonic Coupling in Molecular Aggregates: Introducing a New Paradigm for Designing Organic Optoelectronic Materials. (PDF)

Dr. Mark Philbrick, Program Coordinator, Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office. Biofuels and Bioproducts from Wet and Gaseous Waste Streams​. (PDF)

Professor Michael McGehee, Stanford University. How perovskite semiconductors could transform the solar industry. (PDF)

Past Big Energy Series Events

Dr. Nikola Vasiljević, DTU Wind. Past, present and future of multi-lidar instrument long-range WindScanner system. (PDF)

Dr. Toru Namerikawa, Keio University, Yokohama, Japan. Distributed Real-Time Pricing in Multi-period Electricity Market​. (PDF)

Dr. Julie Lundquist, CU-Boulder Fellow. Downwind Impacts of Wind Energy: Measurements and Simulations of Wind Turbine Wakes. (PDF)

Dr. Ping Liu, ARPA-E Program Director. Material and System Approaches to Electrochemical Energy Storage. (PDF)

Stephen Holland, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Optimal Trading Ratios for Pollution Permit Markets. (PDF)

Paul W. King, Biosciences Center, National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Solar Hydrogen Production by Nanoparticle-Hydrogenase Assemblies. (PDF)

Patrick Keller, Institute Curie, Paris, France. Liquid crystalline elastomers as artificial muscles: Biomimicry “in action.” (PDF)

Linda S. Hirst, University of California, Merced. Quantum dots and liquid crystals: applications in solar concentrators and other hybrid devices. (PDF)

David E. Hicks, Ph.D., National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Enhancing the Study of Renewable Energy Through Communication Scholarship. (PDF)

Florian Dörfler, Department of Electrical Engineering, University of California Los Angeles. Plug’n’Play Operation of Microgrids: Objectives and Strategies. (PDF)

Dr. Adam Holewinski, Georgia Institute of Technology. Mechanistic Analysis of Electrochemical Oxygen Reduction and Development of Economical Silver‐alloy Catalysts for Low Temperature Fuel Cells. (PDF)

Dr. Mykola Tasinkevych, Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems. Local Energy Conversion in Catalytic Janus “Micro-motors.” (PDF)

Gabriela Schlau-Cohen, Ph.D., Stanford University; Dynamics of photosynthetic light harvesting:from ultrafast energy transfer to single-molecule conformational fluctuations.(PDF)

Justin Ashworth, Ph.D., Institute for Systems Biology, Seattle, Washington. Adaptive and productive mechanisms of diatoms and microbial systems. (PDF)

Meagan S. Mauter, Carnegie Mellon Universit. Antecedents and Effects of Company Behavior in Energy Technology Development: Insights from the Solar and Shale Gas Industries. (PDF)

Megan N. McClean, Ph.D., Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, Princeton University. Elucidating principles of biological signal processing using microfluidic and optogenetic tools. (PDF)

Kara J. Stowers, Harvard University. Catalytic transformations: Heterogeneous and homogeneous reactions. (PDF)

Stuart F. Simmons, University of Utah. Beowawe to Wairakei: Discovery and Sustainability of Geothermal Resources. (PDF)

Dr. Hailiang Wang, University of California, Berkeley. Materials Design for Electrochemical Energy Storage and Catalysis. (PDF)

Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Director; Atmosphere Energy Program, Stanford University, 50 State plans for powering the U.S. with wind, water, and solar power for all purposes (PDF)

Maria L. Ghirardi, NREL and RASEI Fellow; Basic process, barriers, and optimization of algal hydrogen production (PDF)

Dr. Mehrdad “Mark” Ehsani, Directo;, Sustainable Energy & Vehicle Engineering Program, Texas A & M University Sept 19, 2013 (PDF)

Jean Goodwin, Professor of Rhetoric, Iowa State University; Engineering Communication for Resilience in the Face of Controversy (PDF)

Kathryn Johnson, Associate Professor, CSM, Joint Appointee NREL; Wind Turbine Control Systems: Adventures in Research and Teaching (PDF)

Peter Seiler, University of Minnesota; High Reliability Monitoring and Control of Wind Turbines (PDF)

 Vitaly Panov, Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland; Energy-efficient Technologies Based on Novel Liquid Crystalline Materials

Dr. Sean Shaheen, University of Denver; Pathways to a New Efficiency Regime for Organic Photovoltaics: The Science and Engineering of Plastic Solar Cells (PDF) (Video)

Eric Martinot, University of California at Berkeley; Renewable Energy Futures to 2050: “Current Thinking” (PDF) (Video)

Chinedum O. Osuji, Chemical and Environmental Engineering Dept., Yale University; Magnetic Fields and Soft Matter – Functional Materials for Energy Applications by Directed Self Assembly of Block Copolymers, Nanowires and Surfactant Mesophases (PDF) (Video)

Greg Scholes, University of Toronto; Design Principles for Light Harvesting 

Jeff Sakamoto, Michigan State University; Keeping up with the increasing demands for electrochemical energy storage: Ceramic oxide electrolytes enabling a new class of safe, high energy density batteries (PDF)

Vojislav Stamenkovic, Argonne National Laboratory, Materials Science Division; Harvesting Energy from Electrochemical Interfaces (PDF)  

Scott Frickel, Washington State University; Socio-environmental Successions: How Cities and Science Respond to Environmental Change (PDF)

Jarod Carbone, University of Calgary; Carbon Taxes and Deficit Reduction (PDF)

Igor Muševič. Ph.D.; Topological soft materials for all-optic low energy photonics (PDF) (Video)

Dr. Christopher J. Orendorff, Sandia National Laboratories; Approaches to Evaluating and Improving Lithium-Ion Battery Safety (PDF) (Video)

Catherine Hausman, UC Berkeley; Corporate Incentives and Nuclear Safety (PDF)

Don Grant, University of Arizona, Integrating Structural Accounts of Climate Change: The Conjoint of Effects of Organizational, World-System, and World Society Factors on Power Plants’ CO2 Emissions. (PDF)

Erich Muehlegger, Harvard, Gasoline Taxes and Consumer Behavior (PDF)

Sandy Butterfield, Boulder Wind Power, Drive Train Innovations for the Next Generation of Wind Turbines (PDF)

David Rapson, Ph.D. University of California, Knowledge is (less) Power: Experimental Evidence from Residential Energy Use (PDF)

John Anderson, Stanford University, Experience and the Evolution of Wind Power Project Costs in the United States (PDF)