Worldwide electricity production vulnerable to climate and water resource change

Climate change impacts and associated changes in water resources could lead to reductions in electricity production capacity for more than 60% of the power plants worldwide from 2040-2069, according to a new study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change. Yet adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible could mitigate much of the decline.

"Hydropower plants and thermoelectric —which are nuclear, fossil-, and biomass-fueled plants converting heat to electricity—both rely on freshwater from rivers and streams," explains Michelle Van Vliet, a researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who led the study. "These power-generating technologies strongly depend on water availability, and water temperature for cooling plays in addition a critical role for thermoelectric power generation."

Together, hydropower and thermoelectric power currently contribute to 98% of electricity production worldwide.

Model projections show that climate change will impact availability and will increase water temperatures in many regions of the world. A previous study by the researchers showed that reduced summer water availability and higher water temperatures associated with climate change could result in significant reductions in thermoelectric power supply in Europe and the United States.

This new study expands the research to a global level, using data from 24,515 hydropower and 1,427 thermoelectric power plants worldwide.

"This is the first study of its kind to examine the linkages between climate change, water resources, and 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," says IIASA Energy Program Director Keywan Riahi, a study co-author.

"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 streamflow 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," says Van Vliet.

The study also explored the potential impact of adaptation measures such as technological developments that increase power plant efficiency, switching from coal to more efficient gas-fired plants, or switching from freshwater cooling to air cooling or to seawater cooling systems for power plants on the coasts.

"We show that technological developments with increases in power plant efficiencies and changes in cooling system types would reduce the vulnerability to water constraints in most regions. Improved cross-sectoral water management during drought periods is of course also important," says Van Vliet. "In order to sustain and energy security in the next decades, the electricity focus will need to increase their focus on adaptation in addition to mitigation."

Explore further

US, European nuclear and coal-fired electrical plants vulnerable to climate change: study

More information: Nature Climate Change, DOI: 10.1038/nclimate2903
Journal information: Nature Climate Change

Citation: Worldwide electricity production vulnerable to climate and water resource change (2016, January 4) retrieved 15 September 2019 from
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Jan 04, 2016
We have to rid ourselves of thermal powerplants, and replace them with renewables, which have less impact on the environment and do not run out. We are held back by those with great investments in Dirty Fuels, . . and those who "believe" their propaganda.

Jan 05, 2016
Human survival hangs in the balance (within a 7 to 15 year time-frame) due to the little recognized combination of Methane heating with Global Warming. Survival of our species requires replacement of 80% of fossil fuels within 5 years. Arctic News provides extensive data for this catastrophic probability.
New energy science and technology is required NOW to meet this challenge.
Existing renewable energy systems cannot achieve this goal. Solar and wind are intermittent. Energy storage is required to provide 24 hour power.

AESOP Institute (a non-profit corporation) is spinning out AESOP Energy LLC to move revolutionary energy breakthroughs to market. See

Fuel-free engines: A converted Ford engine proved the concept. Proprietary improvements are being prototyped in a small Briggs & Stratton engine and a Mitsubishi V6. New science will change the energy landscape!

Jan 05, 2016
"These power-generating technologies strongly depend on water availability, and water temperature for cooling plays in addition a critical role for thermoelectric power generation."

Yes. Even before german decided to shut down its reactors we've had shutdowns due to rivers being too warm during summer months. Nuclöear is also 'intermittent' that way. And the problem is, that this is something that can afflict an entire continent at the same time given a hot summer period.

Also a reason why (bio)gas fired powerplants can only ever be a short to mid term fix, but not a long term solution.

Jan 05, 2016
Many folk do not understand the magnitude of thermal pollution. In a nuke plant, for every Btu of power that goes out on the line, four are put into the local environment. If water-cooled, the temperature is raised so local marine life is affected. When they shut down and start up, they kill the existing flora and fauna

We can do better than the silly brute-force idea of boiling water with deadly three-million-degree Neutrons.

Jan 06, 2016
Wow, Mark_Goldes, not only does AESOP plan to make fossil fuels obsolete, but your web site shows MULTIPLE ways to do this: extracting atmospheric heat with a refrigerant, in admitted violation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and another using low-energy nuclear reactions.

Ahh - I see that you have been doing this for a while: Mark Goldes' Fraudulent "AESOP Institute": https://physicsre...stitute/

Shame on you for scamming money that might actually have been used to solve the problems that you claim to care about.

Jan 06, 2016
Fortunately for us, battery technology may help us get through the changes coming.


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