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Nature Climate Change

January 5, 2016

Thousands of power plants around the world could face significant reductions in their ability to produce electricity by the middle of the century due to more frequent and severe heat waves and droughts, reports a new paper published online this week in Nature Climate Change. The research suggests that planners need to seriously consider adaptation options if they are to avoid the impacts of water constraints exacerbated by climate change.

Hydro- and thermoelectric (nuclear, fossil-fuelled, biomass-fuelled and geothermal) power currently provides a combined 98% of the world’s electricity supply. These technologies depend on water availability, with global water consumption for power generation is expected to double within the next 40 years, as economies develop and the population grows.

Keywan Riahi and colleagues modelled the impact of various climate-induced changes in water resources on 24,515 hydropower plants and 1,427 thermoelectric power plants across the globe. They find that reductions in streamflow and increased water temperatures could reduce the electricity generating capacity of up to 86% of thermoelectric power plants and up to 74% of hydropower plants in the dataset. They find that global annual hydropower capacities are expected to fall by up to 3.6% in the 2050s and 6.1% in the 2080s, as a consequence of reduced streamflow. Finally, they project that the monthly power capacity of the majority of thermoelectric power plants will drop by up to 30% in the 2050s.

However, the authors suggest that increasing the efficiency of hydropower plants by 10% could be enough to offset the annual reductions in capacity. Changing cooling systems and switching from coal to gas could also offset much of the capacity reduction in thermoelectric power plants under a low-emissions scenario.

Thousands of power plants around the world could face significant reductions in their ability to produce electricity by the middle of the century due to more frequent and severe heat waves and droughts, reports a new paper published online this week in Nature Climate Change. The research suggests that planners need to seriously consider adaptation options if they are to avoid the impacts of water constraints exacerbated by climate change.

Hydro- and thermoelectric (nuclear, fossil-fuelled, biomass-fuelled and geothermal) power currently provides a combined 98% of the world’s electricity supply. These technologies depend on water availability, with global water consumption for power generation is expected to double within the next 40 years, as economies develop and the population grows.

Keywan Riahi and colleagues modelled the impact of various climate-induced changes in water resources on 24,515 hydropower plants and 1,427 thermoelectric power plants across the globe. They find that reductions in streamflow and increased water temperatures could reduce the electricity generating capacity of up to 86% of thermoelectric power plants and up to 74% of hydropower plants in the dataset. They find that global annual hydropower capacities are expected to fall by up to 3.6% in the 2050s and 6.1% in the 2080s, as a consequence of reduced streamflow. Finally, they project that the monthly power capacity of the majority of thermoelectric power plants will drop by up to 30% in the 2050s.

However, the authors suggest that increasing the efficiency of hydropower plants by 10% could be enough to offset the annual reductions in capacity. Changing cooling systems and switching from coal to gas could also offset much of the capacity reduction in thermoelectric power plants under a low-emissions scenario.

DOI:10.1038/nclimate2903 | Original article

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