PALO ALTO, Calif. — Electric utilities will need an arsenal of advanced electricity technologies to slash the future cost of reducing carbon emissions from their activities, according to a new study.

The Electric Power Research Institute found that without significant investment in new technologies, such as carbon capture for coal-fired power plants or a "smart" electricity grid, the electric utility industry could spend up to $1.8 trillion to reduce emissions by nearly 50 percent below 2010 levels by 2050.

In contrast, spending $1.4 billion on research annually -- roughly $35 billion total -- could cut the end expense to $900 billion.

"EPRI's analysis clearly shows that if we can deploy a 'full technology portfolio,' we can provide lower-carbon electricity throughout the economy while simultaneously meeting additional demand for electricity due to population growth and economic expansion," said Steve Specker, EPRI president and CEO.

The report's recommended portfolio includes energy efficiency improvements, renewable energy resources, nuclear power, clean coal with carbon capture and storage, and technologies that boost electricity transmission and distribution.

It assumes that plug-in hybrid vehicles will gain significant market penetration between 2010 and 2050, eventually representing 30 percent of new light car sales in the U.S. by 2030.

The report recommends enhancing the transmission pathways to heighten reliability and make renewable energy transmission more viable. It suggests creating storage facilities to store energy to support integration of wind turbines.

The country's existing fleet of nuclear reactors must get upgrades to improve performance, the report said. By 2016, the report suggests that all U.S. nuclear plants received a 20-year life extensions, and have digital control technology in safety and plant control applications by 2030. By then, the report recommends the development of a new generation of highly reliable, high burnup nuclear fuel that reduces the volumes of spent fuel and are capable of longer outage cycles.

The report recommends the country resolve all regulatory issues related to advanced light water reactors, and develop improvements on their design, construction and operation.

Coal is forecast to remain the workhorse of the country's electricity supply through 2050, the report said. It recommends future coal plants built after 2020 have the ability to capture and store 90 percent of the carbon emissions.

Both near- and long-term research and development activities will be needed to enable significant emissions reductions," the report said. "The proposals discussed in this paper are designed to elicit discussion from industry stakeholders about how best to develop the technology capabilities to substantially reduce the electricity sector's CO2 emissions."