Climate Change and Water Availability

Evaluating and Mitigating Risks in the Electric Power Sector

Funding source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Partners: University of Washington.

Funding Amount: $300,000 across all universities.

Climate change is expected to alter extreme weather events and thus change water availability. In addition, increasing temperatures will likely result in increased demand for electricity. Power generation heavily relies on water, either for cooling or for hydropower generation. Increased temperatures, coupled with decreased water availability and increased demand for electricity will thus affect power plants operations and could affect the reliability of the power system. To date, much work has focused on the drought-prone Southwest United States and Texas. While NOAA RISAs have identified the possibility of future droughts in the Southeast United States, no rigorous high-resolution regional studies exist of climate impacts on the vulnerability of and adaptation in the power sector. This proposal seeks to improve information on the risks and opportunities that result from changes in climate and weather extremes to the Southeastern United States power sector (the Southern Electric Reliability Council, or SERC).

For this project we posed three questions, which we are studying for the period from 2010 to 2050. First, we ask how local hydrology and thus water availability will be affected by climate change and related extreme weather events. Second, we examine how these changes in climate and water availability will affect the operations of existing and future power systems. Third, we examine the costs and benefits of technically feasible climate adaptation investments in the power system.