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Evaluating the Energy Security Implications of a Carbon-Constrained U.S. Economy

In this paper, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the World Resources Institute examine eight scenarios for technological development and energy use in the United States in 2035. All envision limiting the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) to 450 parts per million (ppm).

Executive Summary

Applying an Energy Security Lens

The authors assess how each scenario affects eleven factors closely associated with energy security:

  • diversity of energy sources;
  • diversity of suppliers;
  • import levels;
  • security of trade flows;
  • geopolitics and economics;
  • reliability;
  • risk of nuclear proliferation;
  • market/price volatility;
  • affordability;
  • energy intensity (energy used per unit of gross domestic product); and
  • feasibility.

Lessons Learned

This approach, which we think of as envisioning carbon-constrained futures through an “Energy Security Lens,” produced a number of insights that could inform U.S. policymakers as they consider technologies to address energy, climate, and economic priorities:

  • Regardless of fuel and technology choices, some level of energy insecurity is inevitable, especially in the near term, as the United States transitions to a low-carbon energy system. Policymakers should explore ways to mitigate this insecurity during the transition.
  • Meeting GHG reduction goals will be more costly with only today’s technologies than with high penetration of more advanced low-carbon energy technologies. Policymakers should provide the sustained financial and institutional support necessary to advance all available low-carbon technologies, which can reduce costs and increase energy security over the longer term. This will provide the best chance for the emergence of a variety of technology options and quicken the transition to a secure low-carbon energy system.
  • Global---not just domestic---deployment of advanced lowcarbon energy technologies can minimize the costs and energy security risks of achieving climate change goals. The U.S. should support the adoption of advanced low-carbon technologies both at home and abroad.
  • Common notions of “feasibility” (economic, technical, commercial, political) must be stretched. Policymakers should prepare the public to accept higher energy prices while making significant investments in low-carbon energy technologies and infrastructure. Clearly, such investments are necessary to ensure that viable alternatives are available when they are needed. However, energy and economic security concerns make it equally important that policymakers not take overly aggressive action that could jeopardize the existing fuel system until these alternatives can be deployed at scale.
  • A non-carbon-constrained energy future also raises questions of feasibility and significant energy security concerns. A low-carbon future with advanced technology development, however, offers significant commercial and energy security benefits.

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