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System impacts of decarbonization pathways for space heating in cold climates




MITEI: MIT Energy Initiative

Faculty Supervisor:

Robert C. Armstrong

Faculty email:


Apply by:



Dharik Mallapragada: dharik@mit.edu

Project Description

Project Background: CO2 emissions from the U.S. electric power sector have witnessed a steady decline over the past decade, reducing by over 26% during the period 2008-2018 , owing to continued adoption of variable renewable energy (VRE) generation and fuel switching from coal to natural gas. At the same time, emissions in other sectors have remained steady and increased in some cases such as in the transportation sector. The expectation of continued emissions reduction in the power sector has prompted interest among policymakers, regulators and utilities in expanding electrification of other end-use sectors as a way to meet long-term economy wide decarbonization goals. In 2018, electricity contributed less than 17% of final energy use across all sectors , with the largest sectoral contribution to final energy in the residential (40%) and commercial (50%) sectors. Expanded use of electrification in these sectors to displace fossil-fuel use, such as for heating, is appealing not only because it eliminates distributed sources of CO2 emissions and has associated efficiency benefits, but also because it leverages existing end-use technologies and infrastructure. Additionally, electricity demand for space heating could provide a potentially flexible demand-side resource to support VRE integration, if equipped with appropriate control and monitoring capabilities. At the same time, expanded heat electrification could introduce significant seasonal fluctuations in electricity demand and could lead to winter peaking electricity systems in cold climate regions like the U.S. Northeast . These temporal variations coupled with the spatial disparities in electrification of space heating owing to housing stock differences and socio-economic factors furthers increases the complexity of planning low-carbon grids of the future, which are also resilient to extreme events, say stemming from a changing climate. Project Description: This project aims to study the implications of heat electrification for planning low-carbon electricity grids as well as an assessment of the relative merits of pursing alternative decarbonization strategies based on the use of hydrogen in conjunction with the existing gas infrastructure. UROP Role Description: - Develop code to combined various geospatial data sets (electricity/gas demand data from various sources, census data, socio-economic data etc.) and use that as part of training a demand forecasting model that will be estimate future electricity demand from heat electrification in the Northeast. - Review existing literature on demand forecasting for electricity and natural gas consumption. - Become familiar with the nuances of the electricity system and analytical tools used in electricity system planning. - Participate in weekly team discussions of research progress.


- Experience with, or a strong desire to learn, a language like Python in the research/data science setting. - Willingness to do the “dirty work” of modeling and research: finding data sources, cleaning ugly data, debugging code, etc. In other words, a willingness to get frustrated and solve problems! - Familiarity with the hydrogen, natural gas systems is beneficial but not required.