Quantcast
Climate

The Future of Hydropower Looks Dim as Heat and Drought Intensify

Climate change could threaten the electricity supply around the world, according to new calculations. That is because the power generation depends on a sure supply of water.

But climate change also promises greater frequencies and intensities of heat and drought. So more than half of the world’s hydropower and thermoelectric generating plants could find their capacity reduced.

The powerful flow of rivers such as the Columbia in Oregon, could be greatly reduced. Photo credit: National Weather Service Forecast Office via Wikimedia Commons

Michelle van Vliet, an environmental scientist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and colleagues from the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in Nature Climate Change that they modeled the potential performance in the decades ahead of 24,515 hydropower plants and 1,427 nuclear, fossil-fueled, biomass-fueled and geothermal power stations.

Global Consumption

Thermoelectric turbines—which generate power directly from heat, and rely on water as a coolant—and hydropower plants currently generate 98 percent of the planet’s electricity. But global water consumption for power generation is expected to double in the next 40 years as economies develop and the population continues to grow.

The scientists found that reductions in stream and river flow and the rise in levels of water temperature could reduce the generating capacity of up to 86 percent of the thermoelectric plants and up to 74% of the hydropower plants in their study.

This means that power from hydro stations could fall by 3.6 percent in the 2050s and 6.1 percent in the 2080s, because of reduced stream flow. And by the 2050s, the monthly capacity of most of the thermoelectric power plants could drop by 50 percent.

Dr van Vliet said: “In particular, the United States, southern South America, southern Africa, central and southern Europe, Southeast Asia and southern Australia are vulnerable regions, because declines in mean annual stream flow are projected, combined with strong increases in water temperature under changing climate.

“This reduces the potential for both hydropower and thermoelectric power generation in these regions.”

Constrained Supply

Forewarned is forearmed: there are steps that the energy industry could take to make generation more efficient and to adapt to a world in which water supply might be constrained, at least for part of the year.

But the report suggests that the planning for a different tomorrow should start now. “In order to sustain water and energy security in the next decades, the electricity industry will need to increase their focus on climate change adaptation, in addition to mitigation,” Dr van Vliet said.

Keywan Riahi, energy programme director at IIASA and a co-author of the report, said: “This is the first study of its kind to examine the linkages between climate change, water resources and electricity production on a global scale.

“We clearly show that power plants are not only causing climate change, but they might also be affected in major ways by climate.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Mark Jacobson to James Hansen: Nukes Are Not Needed to Solve World’s Climate Crisis

Paris Fails to Revive the Nuclear Dream

Scientists Warn Climate Change Affecting Greenland Ice Sheet More Than Previously Thought

10 Extreme Weather Events in 2015 That Sound the Alarm on Climate Chaos

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
iStock

The Hazards of EIA Energy Forecasts

Accepting the conclusions of the latest energy outlook, released last week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) means also accepting certain climate catastrophe.

As we have noted before, the EIA has made a routine out of releasing unrealistic, distorted and dangerous outlooks on the future of global energy demand. These projections should come with a warning label.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Sci-Fi Novel Envisions Corporatocracy in a Climate-Changed Future

By Nexus Media, with Tal M. Klein

In Tal Klein's new novel, The Punch Escrow, humans have successfully tackled disease and climate change, but powerful corporations control everything. The book has created a stir among sci-fi fans, and there are already plans to adapt it to the big screen. In this conversation with Nexus Media, Klein shares his perspective on science, technology and the future of our species. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Dubai Electricity and Water Authority Facebook

World's Largest Solar Park to Also Host World's Tallest Solar Tower

The Dubai government has awarded a $3.9 billion contract to construct the 700-megawatt fourth and final phase of the world-record-holding Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park.

The project also includes the construction of an 850-foot-tall solar tower that receives focused sunlight, the world's tallest such structure once complete.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Nike

Nike's New 'Flyleather' Sneakers Are Made From 50% Recycled Leather

By Daniele Selby

Nike's new sneakers are pretty fly—and we're not just talking about how they look. The company's new Flyleather sneakers look good, feel great and are less damaging to the environment.

In 2012, Nike introduced its Flyknit technology, which recycled plastic and other material into lightweight shoes, according to GQ. With Flyknit shoes, Nike aimed to make sustainable fashion functional and trendy, and it has applied that same mentality to its new Flyleather shoes, which it unveiled this week to coincide with Climate Week.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of 15 threatened wild places profiled in "Too Wild To Drill." Florian Schulz

These 15 Unique Wild Lands Are Threatened By Extractive Industries

A new report released Tuesday by The Wilderness Society raises the alarm about wild lands threatened by extractive industries eager to exploit the resources on or underneath them, including oil, gas and coal.

Too Wild To Drill identifies 15 unique places found on public lands that are at high risk of drilling, mining and other development—and the damage and destruction that inevitably follow. These lands provide Americans with important benefits such as clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and jobs and other socioeconomic benefits.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
USGS Science Explorer page has zero search results for "effects of climate change." It previously had 2,825 items, according to climate scientist Peter Gleick.

'No Results Found': Thousands of Climate Science Links Purged From USGS Online Database

Yet another U.S. agency has deleted climate change information from its website. This time, the U.S. Geological Survey's "Science Explorer" website—a tax-payer funded online database for the public to browse USGS science programs and activities—has been purged of thousands of formerly searchable climate science links.

The startling discovery was made by Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and member of the U.S. National Academy of Science.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
New York City lights up green to stand for the Paris agreement. C40 Cities

These Companies Support Climate Action, So Why Are They Funding Opposition to It?

By Rachel Leven and Jamie Smith Hopkins

The international climate-fighting pact would create jobs, Google said. Leaving the deal known as the Paris accord would be bad for business, top executives from Bank of America and Coca-Cola argued. When President Donald Trump committed to yanking the U.S. out anyway, PayPal and Western Union countered "We are still in."

These corporate titans and at least 22 others were among those who sought to preserve the U.S.' role in the landmark Paris agreement ratified by about 160 countries. So why exactly would these 27 business powerhouses also support a GOP group that's fought to undo a key Obama-era domestic climate initiative?

Keep reading... Show less

How Monsanto Manufactured 'Outrage' at Chemical Cancer Classification It Expected

By Carey Gillam

Three years ago this month Monsanto executives realized they had a big problem on their hands.

It was September 2014 and the company's top-selling chemical, the weed killer called glyphosate that is the foundation for Monsanto's branded Roundup products, had been selected as one among a handful of pesticides to undergo scrutiny by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monsanto had spent decades fending off concerns about the safety of glyphosate and decrying scientific research indicating the chemical might cause cancer or other diseases. And even though the IARC review was still months away, Monsanto's own scientists knew what the outcome would likely be—and they knew it wouldn't be good.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox