Meeting the Challenge of Our Time:

Pathways to a Low-Carbon Future for the Northwest

An Economy-Wide Deep Decarbonization Pathways Study

JUNE 2019

Meeting the Challenge of Our Time: Pathways to a Clean Energy Future for the Northwest is the first economy-wide analysis to examine decarbonization pathways mapped to the Northwest’s economic and institutional realities. The Clean Energy Transition Institute commissioned this study to understand how Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington could technically and economically achieve a low-carbon economy over the next three decades.


Additional transmission between the Northwest and California reduces the cost of decarbonization by an estimated $11.1 billion in net present value over the 30-year study period (accrued to the combined California and NW region).


Electricity will need to be 96% clean by 2050 and used to heat and cool buildings and power vehicles that currently use fossil fuels.


The carbon intensity of liquid and gas fuels decreases by 70% in 2050.


The share of electricity grows from approximately 23% today to 55% from 2020 to 2050 and total energy demand decreases by 34%, despite a 30% increase in population.
This study is unique in offering a blueprint that broadly frames the opportunities and trade-offs for the Northwest to achieve economy-wide deep decarbonization by 2050.

Key Decarbonization Strategies


Energy Efficiency

Reducing energy consumed to provide energy services
Energy Consumption Per Person (MMBtu)

Clean Electricity

Reducing the emissions intensity of electricity generation
Electricity Carbon Intensity (tonnes CO2 per MWh)


Switching end uses from fuel to electricity
Electricity Share of Total Energy (percentage)

Low-Carbon Fuels

Reducing the emissions intensity of liquid and gaseous fuels
Electricity Carbon Intensity (tonnes CO2 per MWh)

Carbon Capture

Capturing CO2 from a facility or removing CO2 from the atmosphere
Electricity Carbon Intensity (tonnes CO2 per MWh)
Additional Resources

Change in Energy Supply and Demand

Overall demand and supply for clean electricity would increase significantly as electrification decreases liquid fuel and gas demand for the transport, building, and industrial sectors. Biofuels and synthetic liquids produced with clean electricity would significantly reduce the carbon intensity of liquid fuels, while synthetic gas would decarbonize pipeline gas. Coal retirement and new renewable energy would decarbonize the electricity supply.

Illustration of Power-to-X

A major finding of Meeting the Challenge of Our Time: Pathways to a Clean Energy Future for the Northwest is the crucial role that power-to-X will play in 2040–50 to create synthetic gas or synthetic liquid fuels. Power-to-X is a term that describes a variety of different technologies and processes that enable surplus electric power to be stored or used to produce fuels.

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