Edwards, M. R.,McNerney, J.,Trancik, J. E.
The climate impacts of energy technologies are frequently assessed using equivalency metrics, which convert emissions of multiple greenhouse gases to a common scale. Numerous metrics have been proposed that incorporate, in different ways, information about the time-dependent impacts of gases. However, more focus has been placed on proposing metrics than on testing their performance in real world use cases. Here we present a testing approach that simulates how metrics would affect the selection of energy technology portfolios that comply with a CO2-equivalent emissions cap. Unintended radiative forcing outcomes can occur, emphasizing the need to test metrics in a practical context. We demonstrate the approach for policies designed to limit radiative forcing and discuss extensions to limits on temperature or economic impacts. Metric performance is evaluated by (i) how much actual radiative forcing overshoots the intended stabilization level and (ii) the level of energy consumption permitted. We use this testing approach to study a variety of metrics based on an estimated radiative forcing stabilization time under two climate policy goals. We find that these goal-inspired metrics, if chosen carefully, can exhibit performance improvements over the standard global warming potential (GWP) while maintaining its transparency and ease-of-use. These alternative metrics can significantly reduce the overshoot in radiative forcing observed with the GWP, at a small cost in energy consumption. Moreover, simple metrics can exhibit similar performance improvements to more complex ones.