WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2016 - Climate change impacts and associated changes in water resources could lead to reductions in electricity production capacity for more than 60 percent of the power plants worldwide from 2040-2069, but adaptation measures focused on making power plants more efficient and flexible could mitigate much of the decline, says a study by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA ) published recently in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Hydropower and thermoelectric power contribute 98 percent of electricity production worldwide and hydropower plants and thermoelectric power plants rely on freshwater from rivers and streams and depend on water availability. Water temperature for cooling also plays a critical role for thermoelectric power generation. Model projections show that climate change will impact water resources availability and will increase water temperatures in many regions of the world.
“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,” says Keywan Riahi, IIASA Energy Program director.
The study explored potential impacts 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 Michelle Van Vliet, a researcher at IIASA. “In order to sustain water and energy security in the next decades, the electricity (sector) will need to increase their focus on climate change adaptation in addition to mitigation.”
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