McElroy, Michael B.

In Press
Xinyu Chen, Jiajun Lv, Michael B. McElroy, Xingning Han, Chris Nielsen, and Jinyu Wen. In Press. “Power system capacity expansion under higher penetration of renewables considering flexibility constraints and low carbon policies.” IEEE Transactions on Power Systems.
Archana Dayalu, J. William Munger, Yuxuan Wang, Steven C. Wofsy, Yu Zhao, Thomas Nehrkorn, Chris P. Nielsen, Michael B. McElroy, and Rachel Y.-W. Chang. Submitted. “Carbon dioxide emissions in northern China based on atmospheric observations from 2005 to 2009.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Xi Lu, Liang Cao, Haikun Wang, Wei Peng, Jia Xing, Shuxiao Wang, Siyi Cai, Bo Shen, Qing Yang, Chris P. Nielsen, and Michael B. McElroy. Submitted. “Gasification of coal and biomass: a net negative-carbon power source for environmental friendly electricity generation in China.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Meng Gao, Yihui Ding, Shaojie Song, Xiao Lu, Xinyu Chen, and Michael B. McElroy. Submitted. “Secular decrease of wind power potential in India associated with warming Indian Ocean.” Science Advances.
Xingning Han, Xinyu Chen, Michael B. McElroy, Shiwu Liao, and Chris P. Nielsen. Submitted. “Modeling Formulation and Validation for Accelerated Simulation and Flexibility Assessment on Large Scale Power Systems under Higher Renewable Penetrations.” Applied Energy.
Archana Dayalu, William Munger, Steven Wofsy, Yuxuan Wang, Thomas Nehrkorn, Yu Zhao, Michael McElroy, Chris Nielsen, and Kristina Luus. Submitted. “VPRM-CHINA: Using the Vegetation, Photosynthesis, and Respiration Model to partition contributions to CO2 measurements in Northern China during the 2005-2009 growing seasons.” Biogeosciences. Publisher's Version
Xinyu Chen, Junling Huang, Qing Yang, Chris P. Nielsen, Dongbo Shi, and Michael B. McElroy. 2018. “Changing carbon content of Chinese coal and implications for emissions of CO2.” Journal of Cleaner Production, 194, Pp. 150-157. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The changing carbon content of coal consumed in China between 2002 and 2012 is quantified using information from the power sector. The carbon content decreased by 7.7% over this interval, the decrease particularly pronounced between 2007 and 2009. Inferences with respect to the changing carbon content of coal and the oxidation rate for its consumption, combined with the recent information on coal use in China, are employed to evaluate the trend in emissions of CO2. Emissions are estimated to have increased by 158% between 2002 and 2012, from 3.9 Gt y-1 to 9.2 Gt y-1. Our estimated emissions for 2005 are notably consistent with data reported by China in its “Second National Communication” to the UN (NDRC, 2012) and significantly higher than the estimation published recently in Nature. The difference is attributed, among other factors, to the assumption of a constant carbon content of coal in the latter study. The results indicate that CO2 emissions of China in 2005 reported by Second National Communication are more reliable to serve as the baseline for China's future carbon commitments (e.g. those in Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC). Discrepancies between national and provincial statistics on coal production and consumption are investigated and attributed primarily to anomalous reporting on interprovincial trade in four heavily industrialized provinces.

Changing carbon content paper.pdf
Shaojie Song, Meng Gao, Weiqi Xu, Jingyuan Shao, Guoliang Shi, Shuxiao Wang, Yuxuan Wang, Yele Sun, and Michael McElroy. 2018. “Fine particle pH for Beijing winter haze as inferred from different thermodynamic equilibrium models.” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 18, Pp. 7423-7438. Publisher's VersionAbstract
pH is an important property of aerosol particles but is difficult to measure directly. Several studies have estimated the pH values for fine particles in North China winter haze using thermodynamic models (i.e., E-AIM and ISORROPIA) and ambient measurements. The reported pH values differ widely, ranging from close to 0 (highly acidic) to as high as 7 (neutral). In order to understand the reason for this discrepancy, we calculated pH values using these models with different assumptions with regard to model inputs and particle phase states. We find that the large discrepancy is due primarily to differences in the model assumptions adopted in previous studies. Calculations using only aerosol phase composition as inputs (i.e., reverse mode) are sensitive to the measurement errors of ionic species and inferred pH values exhibit a bimodal distribution with peaks between −2 and 2 and between 7 and 10. Calculations using total (gas plus aerosol phase) measurements as inputs (i.e., forward mode) are affected much less by the measurement errors, and results are thus superior to those obtained from the reverse mode calculations. Forward mode calculations in this and previous studies collectively indicate a moderately acidic condition (pH from about 4 to about 5) for fine particles in North China winter haze, indicating further that ammonia plays an important role in determining this property. The differences in pH predicted by the forward mode E-AIM and ISORROPIA calculations may be attributed mainly to differences in estimates of activity coefficients for hydrogen ions. The phase state assumed, which can be either stable (solid plus liquid) or metastable (only liquid), does not significantly impact pH predictions of ISORROPIA.
Xinyu Chen, Zhiwei Xu, Chris P Nielsen, and Michael B. McElroy. 2018. “Impacts of fleet types and charging modes for electric vehicles on emissions under different penetrations of wind power.” Nature Energy, 3, Pp. 413-421. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Current Chinese policy promotes the development of both electricity-propelled vehicles and carbon-free sources of power. Concern has been expressed that electric vehicles on average may emit more CO2 and conventional pollutants in China. Here, we explore the environmental implications of investments in different types of electric vehicle (public buses, taxis and private light-duty vehicles) and different modes (fast or slow) for charging under a range of different wind penetration levels. To do this, we take Beijing in 2020 as a case study and employ hourly simulation of vehicle charging behaviour and power system operation. Assuming the slow-charging option, we find that investments in electric private light-duty vehicles can result in an effective reduction in the emission of CO2 at several levels of wind penetration. The fast-charging option, however, is counter-productive. Electrifying buses and taxis offers the most effective option to reduce emissions of NO x , a major precursor for air pollution.
Michael B. McElroy, Xinyu Chen, and Yawen Deng. 2018. “The missing money problem: incorporation of increased resources from wind in a representative US power market.” Renewable Energy, 126, Pp. 126-136. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The paper considers opportunities to reduce emissions of CO2 through increases in commitments to wind in a representative US power market. A model is applied to simulate market operations for different wind levels focusing on implications of the reduction in clearing prices arising due to increasing inputs of zero marginal cost power from wind, a dilemma referred to as the missing money problem. The resulting decrease in income poses problems for existing thermal and nuclear generating systems, at the same time making investments in wind uneconomic in the absence offsetting policy interventions. Two options are considered to subsidize cost: an investment credit (IC) or a subsidy on production (PC). The dilemma could be addressed also with a carbon tax targeted to increase income. It is assumed that the cost associated with the IC and PC options should be borne by the consumer, offsetting benefits from lower wholesale prices. It is assumed further that income from the carbon tax should be rebated to the consumer offsetting related increases in clearing prices. IC and PC options offer opportunities to reduce emissions at low or even negative net costs to the consumer. Higher costs are associated with the option of a carbon tax.
Xi Lu and Michael B. McElroy. 2017. “Global potential for wind generated electricity.” In Wind Energy Engineering: A Handbook for Onshore and Offshore Wind Turbines, edited by Trevor M. Letcher. Amsterdam: Elsevier. Publisher's Version
Xinyu Chen, Michael B. McElroy, and Chongqing Kang. 2017. “Integrated energy systems for higher wind penetration in China: Formulation, implementation, and impacts.” IEEE Transactions on Power Systems. Publisher's VersionAbstract
With the largest installed capacity in the world, wind power in China is experiencing a ∼20% curtailment. The inflexible combined heat and power (CHP) has been recognized as the major barrier for integrating the wind source. The approach to reconcile the conflict between inflexible CHP units and variable wind power in Chinese energy system is yet un-clear. This paper explores the technical and economic feasibility of deploying the heat storage tanks and electric boilers under typical power grids and practical operational regulations. A mixed integer linear optimization model is proposed to simulate an integrated power and heating energy systems, including a CHP model capable of accounting for the commitment decisions and non-convex energy generation constraints. The model is applied to simulate a regional energy system (Jing-Jin-Tang) covering 100-million population, with hourly resolution over a year, incorporating actual data and operational regulations. The results project an accelerating increase in wind curtailment rate at elevated wind penetration. Investment for wind breaks-even at 14% wind penetration. At such penetration, the electric boiler (with heat storage) is effective in reducing wind curtailment. The investment in electric boilers is justified on a social economic basis, but the revenues for different stakeholders are not distributed evenly.
Haikun Wang, Yanxu Zhang, Xi Lu, Weimo Zhu, Chris P. Nielsen, Jun Bi, and Michael B. McElroy. 2017. “Trade‐driven relocation of air pollution and health impacts in China.” Nature Communications, 8, 738. Publisher's Version
Michael B. McElroy and Xinyu Chen. 2017. “Wind and solar power in the United States: Status and prospects.” CSEE Journal of Power and Energy Systems, 3, 1.Abstract


The United States has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26%–28% by 2025 and by 83% by 2050 relative to 2005. Meeting these objectives will require major investments in renewable energy options, particularly wind and solar. These investments are promoted at the federal level by a variety of tax credits, and at the state level by requirements for utilities to include specific fractions of renewable energy in their portfolios (Renewable Portfolio Standards) and by opportunities for rooftop PV systems to transfer excess power to utilities through net metering, allowing meters to operate in reverse. The paper discusses the current status of these incentives.


Peter Sherman, Xinyu Chen, and Michael B. McElroy. 2017. “Wind-generated electricity in China: Decreasing potential, inter-annual variability, and association with climate change.” Scientific Reports, 7. Publisher's VersionAbstract
China hosts the world’s largest market for wind-generated electricity. The financial return and carbon reduction benefits from wind power are sensitive to changing wind resources. Wind data derived from an assimilated meteorological database are used here to estimate what the wind generated electricity in China would have been on an hourly basis over the period 1979 to 2015 at a geographical resolution of approximately 50 km × 50 km. The analysis indicates a secular decrease in generating potential over this interval, with the largest declines observed for western Inner Mongolia (15 ± 7%) and the northern part of Gansu (17 ± 8%), two leading wind investment areas. The decrease is associated with long-term warming in the vicinity of the Siberian High (SH), correlated also with the observed secular increase in global average surface temperatures. The long-term trend is modulated by variability relating to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and the Arctic Oscillation (AO). A linear regression model incorporating indices for the PDO and AO, as well as the declining trend, can account for the interannual variability of wind power, suggesting that advances in long-term forecasting could be exploited to markedly improve management of future energy systems.
Challenges faced by China compared with the US in developing wind power
Xi Lu, Michael B. McElroy, Wei Peng, Shiyang Liu, Chris P. Nielsen, and Haikun Wang. 2016. “Challenges faced by China compared with the US in developing wind power.” Nature Energy, 1, 6. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC held in Paris in December 2015, China pledged to peak its carbon emissions and increase non-fossil energy to 20% by 2030 or earlier. Expanding renewable capacity, especially wind power, is a central strategy to achieve these climate goals. Despite greater capacity for wind installation in China compared to the US (145.1 versus 75.0 GW), less wind electricity is generated in China (186.3 versus 190.9 TWh). Here, we quantify the relative importance of the key factors accounting for the unsatisfactory performance of Chinese wind farms. Different from the results in earlier qualitative studies, we find that the difference in wind resources explains only a small fraction of the present China-US difference in wind power output (17.9% in 2012); the curtailment of wind power, differences in turbine quality, and delayed connection to the grid are identified as the three primary factors (respectively 49.3%, 50.2%, and 50.3% in 2012). Improvements in both technology choices and the policy environment are critical in addressing these challenges. 

Lu et al. is the cover article of this issue of Nature Energy. It is also subject of a "News and Views" commentary in the same issue, by Joanna I. Lewis.

Energy and Climate: Vision for the Future
Michael B. McElroy. 2016. Energy and Climate: Vision for the Future. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The climate of our planet is changing at a rate unprecedented in recent human history. The energy absorbed from the sun exceeds what is returned to space. The planet as a whole is gaining energy. The heat content of the ocean is increasing; the surface and atmosphere are warming; mid-latitude glaciers are melting; sea level is rising. The Arctic Ocean is losing its ice cover. None of these assertions are based on theory but on hard scientific fact. Given the science-heavy nature of climate change, debates and discussions have not played as big a role in the public sphere as they should, and instead are relegated to often misinformed political discussions and inaccessible scientific conferences. Michael B. McElroy, an eminent Harvard scholar of environmental studies, combines both his research chops and pedagogical expertise to present a book that will appeal to the lay reader but still be grounded in scientific fact. 

In Energy and Climate: Vision for the Future, McElroy provides a broad and comprehensive introduction to the issue of energy and climate change intended to be accessible for the general reader. The book includes chapters on energy basics, a discussion of the contemporary energy systems of the US and China, and two chapters that engage the debate regarding climate change. The perspective is global but with a specific focus on the US and China recognizing the critical role these countries must play in addressing the challenge of global climate change. The book concludes with a discussion of initiatives now underway to at least reduce the rate of increase of greenhouse gas emissions, together with a vision for a low carbon energy future that could in principle minimize the long-term impact of energy systems on global climate.

Meiyu Guo, Xi Lu, Chris P. Nielsen, Michael B. McElroy, Wenrui Shi, Yuntian Chen, and Xuan Yu. 2016. “Prospects for shale gas production in China: Implications for water demand.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 66, December, Pp. 742-750. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Development of shale gas resources is expected to play an important role in China's projected transition to a low-carbon energy future. The question arises whether the availability of water could limit this development. The paper considers a range of scenarios to define the demand for water needed to accommodate China's projected shale gas production through 2020. Based on data from the gas field at Fuling, the first large-scale shale gas field in China, it is concluded that the water intensity for shale gas development in China (water demand per unit lateral length) is likely to exceed that in the US by about 50%. Fuling field would require a total of 39.9–132.9 Mm3 of water to achieve full development of its shale gas, with well spacing assumed to vary between 300 and 1000 m. To achieve the 2020 production goal set by Sinopec, the key Chinese developer, water consumption is projected to peak at 7.22 Mm3 in 2018. Maximum water consumption would account for 1% and 3%, respectively, of the available water resource and annual water use in the Fuling district. To achieve China's nationwide shale gas production goal set for 2020, water consumption is projected to peak at 15.03 Mm3 in 2019 in a high-use scenario. It is concluded that supplies of water are adequate to meet demand in Fuling and most projected shale plays in China, with the exception of localized regions in the Tarim and Jungger Basins.

Ning Zhang, Xi Lu, Chris P Nielsen, Michael B. McElroy, Xinyu Chen, Yu Deng, and Chongqing Kang. 2016. “Reducing curtailment of wind electricity in China by employing electric boilers for heat and pumped hydro for energy storage.” Applied Energy, 184, Pp. 987-994. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Accommodating variable wind power poses a critical challenge for electric power systems that are heavily dependent on combined heat and power (CHP) plants, as is the case for north China. An improved unit-commitment model is applied to evaluate potential benefits from pumped hydro storage (PHS) and electric boilers (EBs) in West Inner Mongolia (WIM), where CHP capacity is projected to increase to 33.8 GW by 2020. A business-as-usual (BAU) reference case assumes deployment of 20 GW of wind capacity. Compared to BAU, expanding wind capacity to 40 GW would allow for a reduction in CO2 emissions of 33.9 million tons, but at a relatively high cost of US$25.3/ton, reflecting primarily high associated curtailment of wind electricity (20.4%). A number of scenarios adding PHS and/or EBs combined with higher levels of wind capacity are evaluated. The best case indicates that a combination of PHS (3.6 GW) and EBs (6.2 GW) together with 40 GW of wind capacity would reduce CO2 emissions by 43.5 million tons compared to BAU, and at a lower cost of US$16.0/ton. Achieving this outcome will require a price-incentive policy designed to ensure the profitability of both PHS and EB facilities.

Junling Huang and Michael B. McElroy. 2015. “A 32-year perspective on the origin of wind energy in a warming climate.” Renewable Energy, 77, May, Pp. 482-492. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Based on assimilated meteorological data for the period January 1979 to December 2010, the origin of wind energy is investigated from both mechanical and thermodynamic perspectives, with special focus on the spatial distribution of sources, historical long term variations and the efficiency for kinetic energy production. The dry air component of the atmosphere acts as a thermal engine, absorbing heat at higher temperatures, approximately 256 K, releasing heat at lower temperatures, approximately 252 K. The process is responsible for production of wind kinetic energy at a rate of 2.46 W/m2  sustaining thus the circulation of the atmosphere against frictional dissipation. The results indicate an upward trend in kinetic energy production over the past 32 years, indicating that wind energy resources may be varying in the current warming climate. This analysis provides an analytical framework that can be adopted for future studies addressing the ultimate wind energy potential and the possible perturbations to the atmospheric circulation that could arise as a result of significant exploitation of wind energy.