Pathways to Net-Zero for the US Energy Transition

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What will it take to achieve a net-zero carbon emissions footprint for the US economy by 2050? This report from Energy Pathways USA helps strengthen the evidence base on what will be required for a robust US energy transition and elucidates key barriers and opportunities for reaching net-zero goals.

The authors examine past and present emissions trends and highlight common threads across recent quantitative analyses of potential net-zero trajectories, identifying sectors and shifts that could significantly boost decarbonization. Transforming the electricity grid—with clean energy production, increased high-voltage transmission, and grid modernization for resilience and reliability—is critical to all of these projections. Electrifying transportation and buildings, pursuing hydrogen as a fuel source, and expanding carbon management solutions are also commonly identified as significant ways to spur decarbonization.

The authors also offer an overview of the federal and state decarbonization policy landscape—including analysis of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act passed into law in 2022.

“For the US to reach its climate goals, these federal government investments will need to galvanize a multiplicative effect of private and subnational investments—along with construction of infrastructure and deployment of new technology—at an unprecedented scope, scale, and pace,” the authors note.

The report closes with a selection of challenges and opportunities for the US net-zero project that require further attention:

  • Accelerated deployment of clean electricity and the electrification of vehicles
  • Accelerated energy efficiency and the electrification of buildings
  • Development and deployment of advanced energy technologies, including hydrogen; carbon capture, utilization, and storage; direct air capture; zero-carbon liquid fuels; and advanced nuclear and geothermal energy sources
  • Reduced industrial-sector emissions through electrification, efficiency upgrades, the deployment of advanced energy technologies, and low- or zero-carbon fuels
  • Reductions in methane emissions in oil and gas exploration and development
  • Enhanced conservation and sequestration in forest and agricultural lands
  • Accelerated state and regional coordination and efforts
  • Ensured equitability for the energy transition
  • Increased domestic supply chain sourcing to support all aspects of the transition

The report concludes by outlining future areas of work for Energy Pathways USA. This Duke-based endeavor brings together corporate partners and thought leaders across multiple key industries to accelerate net-zero progress in the US.






Ewing, John, Martin Ross, Amy Pickle, Robert Stout and Brian Murray (2022). Pathways to Net-Zero for the US Energy Transition. Retrieved from



John Jackson Ewing

Adjunct Associate Professor in the Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy

Jackson Ewing is director of energy and climate policy at the Nicholas Institute of Energy, Environment & Sustainability at Duke University. He is also an adjunct associate professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment and a faculty affiliate with the Duke Center for International Development at the Sanford School of Public Policy. He works closely with the Duke Kunshan University Environmental Research Center and International Masters of Environmental Policy programs to build policy research collaboration across Duke platforms in the United States and China.

Prior to joining Duke, Ewing was director of Asian Sustainability at the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York, where he led projects on Asian carbon market cooperation and sustainable resource development in the ASEAN Economic Community. He previously served as a MacArthur Fellow and head of the Environment, Climate Change and Food Security Program at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and has worked throughout Asia with actors in government, the private sector, civil society, and international organizations.

Ewing publishes widely through a range of mediums and is a regular contributor to radio, television and print media. He holds a doctorate in environmental security and master's degree in international relations from Australia’s Bond University, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the College of Charleston.

Martin Ross

Research Scientist, Senior

Martin Ross is a senior research economist at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, specializing in environmental and energy economics and macroeconomic-simulation modeling.

Prior to joining the Nicholas Institute at the end of 2011, he worked with RTI International where he developed the Applied Dynamic Analysis of the Global Economy (ADAGE) model, which is used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to respond to Congressional requests for legislative analyses. The ADAGE model can investigate many types of economic, energy, environmental, and trade policies at the international, national, and U.S. regional levels. It is particularly useful for examining how climate-change mitigation policies limiting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from energy consumption and non-CO2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will affect all sectors of the economy, altering industrial and residential energy consumption and efficiency. Research conducted for the U.S. EPA Climate Change Division, the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum, and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change has involved using the ADAGE model to estimate U.S. macroeconomic impacts of legislative proposals to reduce GHG emissions. Other modeling by Ross has included developing a detailed technology model of electricity markets to examine how criteria pollutant and GHG policies affect capacity planning decisions and generation costs.

Prior to joining RTI, Ross spent several years at Charles River Associates where he developed regional models to look at effects of climate-change mitigation policies and macroeconomic impacts of electric-utility legislation. In addition to his legislative analysis, Ross has advised industry groups such as the Electric Power Research Institute and Edison Electric Institute on economic and electricity modeling, and is published in The Energy JournalEnergy Economics, and Climactic Change, among others.

Ross holds both a doctoral and master's degree in economics from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a bachelor's degree in economics from Michigan State University.


Brian Murray

Research Professor in the Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy

Dr. Brian C. Murray is Director of the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, Research Professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment (primary) and Sanford School of Public Policy (secondary), and Faculty Associate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society. In 2015 he was Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Environment and Economy at University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment.  He is widely recognized for his work on the economics of energy and climate change policy, including the design of market based mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gases and deploy low-carbon energy. Members of the United States Congress, state legislators and regulators have sought the counsel of Dr. Murray and colleagues in developing energy and climate legislative proposals and regulatory options.  Their development of the cost containment reserve mechanism is now in use in several greenhouse cap-and-trade programs in North America.  Dr. Murray has been invited as a co-author of several national and international assessments of natural resources, especially related to energy and climate change. Of particular note, he serves on a National Academy of Sciences panel on greenhouse gases and the tax code, where he led the panel’s efforts on biofuel subsidies.  He was a convening lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry. He has convened several forums of economic modeling experts to examine and communicate the results of their climate, energy and land use policy efforts to the public and private sectors.  His research has examined the economic effects of traditional command-based regulatory strategies for pollution control and more market-oriented approaches such as cap-and-trade programs and emission taxes.  He has been a consultant to a wide range of clientele in the public and private sector, including numerous federal government agencies, members of Congress and their staff, state regulatory agencies, CEOs and senior staff from Fortune 500 companies, trade groups, nongovernmental organizations, and other academic institutions.   He has authored or co-authored over 100 publications in books, edited volumes, and professional journals across a range od disciplines.  From 2017-21 he was a regular contributor to Forbes. Prior to coming to the Nicholas Institute in 2006, Dr. Murray was Director of the Center for Regulatory Economics and Policy Research at RTI International, a university-affiliated not-for-profit research institution. 

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