WASHINGTON, March 29, 2017 - High precipitation and snowpack levels, which supply hydroelectric generators throughout the year, suggest that hydroelectric generation in California in 2017 will significantly exceed 2016 levels, according to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
As a result of one of the wettest winters on record, California’s drought is significantly weakening for the first time since 2011, the agency says.
California experienced record levels of precipitation this winter, the data show, and unlike the previous winter, cooler temperatures over the 2016–2017 winter season have enabled the precipitation to build up snowpack (the total accumulated snow and ice on the ground).
Snowpack and snow water equivalent (SWE) are strong drivers of hydroelectric generation, EIA says, because runoff from melting snowpack feeds hydroelectric plants in the spring and summer months.
California’s hydroelectric generation increased through most of 2016, especially toward the end of the year, EIA says.
Total 2016 hydroelectric generation in California was well above the 2013–2015 range, and was nearly as high as the longer-term, pre-drought generation average over 2001–2010, the data show.
Decreasing hydroelectric generation in California in recent years has been offset by increasing natural gas, wind and solar generation, EIA says.
An increase in hydroelectric generation could decrease reliance on generation from other sources, the agency notes, particularly natural gas-fired generation.
According to data from the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the grid operator for much of the state, hydro generation in the CAISO service area so far in 2017 has been double that over the same period of 2016. Over the same time, natural gas generation has been down nearly 20 percent.