Projects & Partnerships

Some examples of the projects Catalyst has done or enabled with our open source Public Utility Data Liberation (PUDL) platform:

Fossil Fuel Refinancing Project

From Catalyst’s inception, we have compiled data to support a diverse group of stakeholders in multiple states that have been lobbying for policy tools that enable the early retirement of fossil generation. This work began in association with the CPI Climate Finance group prior to Catalyst’s formation in late 2016, and continues to the present. The organizations involved have included CPI, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Energy Innovation, Sierra Club, and the Western Grid Group’s Western Clean Energy Advocates, as well as former state regulators and other independent state-level energy policy advocates. The campaign has primarily focused on getting state legislation passed, enabling utility asset securitization through low-cost ratepayer backed bonds. So far the campaign has had success in Colorado, New Mexico, and Montana. Related resources compiled by Energy Innovations:

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)

Through our work on the Fossil Fuel Refinancing Project, we have been integrated with RMI’s internal data working group. We have compiled original data related to utility asset depreciation from PUC proceedings. With that compiled data, we provide their group with programmatic access to the data reported in the EIA Forms 860/861/923 and FERC Form 1. With their team, we have developed an automated system to connect EIA, FERC Form 1 and depreciation data at the most granular level available. These data are used to support expert testimony in PUC proceedings, advocating for the early retirement of fossil infrastructure and replacement with renewable energy, primarily on economic grounds. They also provide the foundation for much of RMI’s Utility Transition Hub, an interactive data portal that allows users to track, quantify, and understand how investments, operations, policies, and regulations shape outcomes in the electricity sector.

Open Energy Outlook

The Open Energy Outlook is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation-supported effort to develop and model open source, transparent energy system scenarios for the US, exploring a wider variety of decarbonization and cost reduction pathways than analogous efforts like US EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook. The OEO will depend on PowerGenome for inputs defining the current US electricity system, and PowerGenome depends on PUDL. We have also discussed collaborating with DeCarolis and Jaramillo on submitting an application for Google Cloud Platform Research Credits, to support the development of more easily reproducible model runs and data processing pipelines.

Electricity Demand Localization

With support from GridLab, we have been collaborating with researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Lab to estimate historical (2001-present) hourly electricity demand at the county level, based on the FERC 714, EIA 861, US Census, and other datasets. This includes generating annual utility and balancing area service territory geometries, which can be used for a wide variety of geospatial analyses, linked to data reported by individual utilities. The algorithm being used to estimate the spatial and temporal demand distribution can also be used to obtain unique estimates of other spatial attributes that are reported by overlapping jurisdictions. Localizing electricity demand is important for modeling the integration of high fractions of location dependent renewable resources. This work will feed into a higher spatial resolution version of the 2035 Report produced by the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, which explores the economic benefits of rapid electricity system decarbonization.

PowerGenome / GenX

PowerGenome is an open source project that aims to translate original data into formats appropriate for use as input into a variety of different capacity expansion and operational models. It relies on Catalyst’s Public Utility Data Liberation project for information about the current and historical state of the US electricity system.

The project is spearheaded by Greg Schivley, a recent PhD from Carnegie Mellon University. He is currently working as an independent consultant. He has worked with the Rhodium Group, the National Energy Technology Lab, and the Clean Air Task Force. With support from the Spitzer Foundation, Schivley has been using PowerGenome and PUDL to prepare inputs for the GenX capacity expansion model, in collaboration with Jesse Jenkins at Princeton University. Together they are modeling a variety of low carbon energy system build-out scenarios.

EPA EmPOWER Air Data Challenge

Catalyst is playing an advisory role to Greg Miller, a PhD student at UC Davis, on a 2020-2021 EPA EmPOWER Air Data Challenge project. The project will use CAMD’s Power Sector Emissions Data and other resources compiled within the PUDL datasets to create a database of hourly average emissions factors based on the existing eGRID methodology, and analyze how hourly emissions factors impact greenhouse gas inventory calculations.

Energy Innovation

We have worked with Energy Innovation as part of the Fossil Fuel Refinancing Project, and also more directly, compiling detailed estimates of the fixed and variable operating costs, and ongoing capital additions for fossil power plants nationwide, in order to demonstrate the location-specific economic benefits of retiring many coal and gas plants in favor of low cost, long-term renewable PPAs. The PUDL-derived marginal costs of electricity for coal and gas plants across the country feed into an interactive map and form the basis for the cost estimates Energy Innovations calculated for their Coal Cost Crossover 2.0 report. The map overlays operational costs for existing infrastructure with estimates of the levelized cost of electricity for new wind and solar. The cost figures are derived from 2019 fuel and operations/maintenance data from FERC and EIA, as well as estimates from the National Energy Modeling System where FERC and EIA data was unavailable. The Coal Cost Crossover 2.0 report found that 80% of existing coal plants are more costly to operate than investing in new wind or solar, or are slated to retire before 2025.

Vibrant Clean Energy

Catalyst’s compilation of existing power plant operating costs and other attributes based on EIA 860, EIA 923, and FERC Form 1 are some of many inputs into VCE’s WIS:dom energy system model. We have been credited in their recent reports:

Carbon Tracker Initiative

The Carbon Tracker Initiative models the economics of coal and natural gas fired power plants worldwide. They publish the outputs for use by clean energy advocates globally (e.g. Ceres’ investor focused Climate Action 100+ Initiative). Their work highlights the declining economic viability of existing fossil generation, and helps to make a purely economic case for replacing carbon intensive generation with renewable energy. Carbon Tracker uses Catalyst’s PUDL data as a primary input into their model of US electricity generation costs. They have recently expanded the scope of their work to include more natural gas power plants, and are interested in accessing the FERC Form 2 which we are targeting for our next round of data integration.

Reviewing Zero Net Carbon Policy Proposals

Catalyst has also worked with grassroots advocates in Colorado to perform qualitative policy analysis. In December, 2017 the Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) released a Zero Net Carbon Portfolio Analysis in response to requests from PRPA members. PRPA contracted Pace Global to conduct the analysis, and the Fort Collins Sustainability Group engaged Catalyst to rapidly review and offer PRPA feedback on the report, examining the economic and policy assumptions underpinning the results. These included resource price projections, capacity factor projections, technological assumptions, and overall projections about the future state of the electricity grid.

See our full report: Observations from the PRPA Zero Net Carbon Portfolio Analysis.