Projected impacts of climate and water resources on annual mean usable capacity of current hydropower and thermoelectric power plants, for the two global warming scenarios, RCP2.6 and RCP8.5. Graphic: van Vliet, et al., 2016 / Nature Climate Change

4 January 2016 (Thomson Reuters) – Climate change could lead to significant declines in electricity production in coming decades as water resources are disrupted, said a study published on Monday.

Hydropower stations and thermoelectric plants, which depend on water to generate energy, together contribute about 98 per cent of the world's electricity production, said the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Shifts in water temperatures, or the availability of fresh water due to climate change, could lead to reductions in electricity production capacity in more than two thirds of the world's power plants between 2040 and 2069, said the study from an Austrian research centre.

"Power plants are not only causing climate change, but they might also be affected in major ways by climate," said Keywan Riahi, Director of the Energy Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

"(Due to) climate change it will be increasingly difficult to provide reliable services at affordable costs," Riahi, one of the study's authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Hydropower plants rely on water to move turbines, while thermoelectric plants, including nuclear and fossil-fuel based generators, need fresh water to cool their systems. [more]

Power generation could take a big hit from climate change


ABSTRACT: Hydropower and thermoelectric power together contribute 98% of the world’s electricity generation at present1. These power-generating technologies both strongly depend on water availability, and water temperature for cooling also plays a critical role for thermoelectric power generation. Climate change and resulting changes in water resources will therefore affect power generation while energy demands continue to increase with economic development and a growing world population. Here we present a global assessment of the vulnerability of the world’s current hydropower and thermoelectric power-generation system to changing climate and water resources, and test adaptation options for sustainable water–energy security during the twenty-first century. Using a coupled hydrological–electricity modelling framework with data on 24,515 hydropower and 1,427 thermoelectric power plants, we show reductions in usable capacity for 61–74% of the hydropower plants and 81–86% of the thermoelectric power plants worldwide for 2040–2069. However, adaptation options such as increased plant efficiencies, replacement of cooling system types and fuel switches are effective alternatives to reduce the assessed vulnerability to changing climate and freshwater resources. Transitions in the electricity sector with a stronger focus on adaptation, in addition to mitigation, are thus highly recommended to sustain water–energy security in the coming decades.

Power-generation system vulnerability and adaptation to changes in climate and water resources

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