Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. (E3), a sustainability consulting firm, revealed that while electrification overtakes natural gas heating as Illinois targets net-zero emissions by 2050, the state’s electric grid may shift from a summer-peaking to a winter-peaking system. 

In a study commissioned by the state’s largest electric utility, Commonwealth Edison Co. (ComEd), E3 reported that achieving the state’s economy-wide net-zero target would mean Illinois “will need to electrify around 6.5 million residential homes and will need to add 12 million light-duty EVs to the road.” As of 2020, Illinois had more than four million registered automobiles in the state according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

As such, E3 emphasized that investments in the electric grid would be “critical” in achieving decarbonization. In both the moderate electrification scenario and the high electrification scenario, ComEd’s annual and peak load growth is estimated to double from 2020-2050. 

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“As the operator of the largest electric grid in Illinois, we have a critical role in enabling the state’s decarbonization goals, and we’re committed to making sure the transition to a clean energy economy is affordable and equitable for all of our customers,” said ComEd CEO Gil Quiniones. “All paths to decarbonization will require the electric grid to do more.”

Transitioning residential and commercial heating from natural gas to electric could take Illinois’ electric grid from a summer-peaking to a winter-peaking system, E3 said. The firm recommended hydrogen as one option to support the electric grid on multi-day cold snaps when long-duration storage would be more essential. 

Shifting consumers’ investment decisions via incentives under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and other measures would also be a key component of achieving economy-wide decarbonization by 2050, E3 said.

That said, the firm estimated that decarbonizing Illinois’ economy would put upward pressure on electric and gas rates for the average consumer. Under the high electrification scenario, the firm estimated that customers still using natural gas-fired heat and internal combustion engines (ICE) may be paying upwards of $500/month in energy bills, whereas fully-electrified Illinoisians are estimated to be paying around $300/month. 

By comparison, E3 estimated current consumers using natural gas for heat and ICEs are paying around $200/month in 2022. 

Current Policies Not Enough

In 2019, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed the state into the U.S. Climate Alliance (USCA), a collection of states committed to achieving the climate goals laid out by the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change. The USCA is collectively aiming to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net-zero based on 2005 levels by 2050. 

As such, in 2021 Pritzker signed into law the state’s Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA), enshrining into state law the 2050 goals, as well pushing the state’s electricity planning and procurement agency to double the state’s investment in renewable energy. 

CEJA also required the power sector to phase out fossil fuel-fired generation by 2045. 

Even with current legislation such as CEJA and IRA, E3 reported that “Illinois will still need to implement additional policy to accelerate decarbonization” to achieve net-zero by 2050. 

“There’s a lot of work still to be done to decarbonize vehicles and buildings, to reduce emissions from the agricultural and industrial sectors, and to commercialize critical emerging technologies like low-carbon fuels and the negative emissions technologies that will be needed to get to a carbon neutral future,” said E3’s Amber Mahone, one of the leading researchers for the study. 

E3 undertook an eight-month review to determine the most effective avenues for Illinois to achieve its decarbonization goals. The firm noted it received input from several agencies, including the Argonne National Laboratory’s Center for Climate Resilience and Decision Science, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Illinois’ Citizens Utility Board, the City of Chicago, the Environmental Defense Fund, the National Resources Defense Council, Illinois’ Office of the Attorney General, and the Accelerate Group LLC.

ComEd, an Exelon Corp. subsidiary, provides nine million Illinoisans with electric utility services.