Water Availability and the Effect on the Production of Electricity


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Climate Change: Understanding the Future

The situations during recent warm, dry summers highlight the effect that warmer weather can have on the electricity production. For this reason, a modelling study was performed by the researchers of the Earth System Science and Climate Change Group of Wageningen University (The Netherlands). Other partners in the project were the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of Washington University (Seattle, US), the Institute of Energy and Climate Research (Jülich, Germany) and the Institute for the Applied Systems Analysis (Laxenburg, Austria).

Lower river flows may mean less electricity produced. Photo by freeaussiestock.

River Flows and Water Temperatures Simulation

In the study, using the data supplied by the Global Climate Model (GCM), researchers used a model to simulate the rivers flows, and a model to simulate water temperature in Europe and US for the years 2030-2060 and 2070-2100.

To verify the accuracy of the simulated data, the simulation was performed for the years 1971-2000 as well; a comparison between the data resulting from the simulation and the ones registered in this period confirmed the validity of the model employed.

Results showed a prediction in the decrease of the river flows in Europe (average 13-15%) and US (4-12%) for 2031-2060 compared to 1971-2000.

At the same time, an increase in the water temperature is also predicted (0.7-0.9 oC in Europe and 0.8-1.0 oC in US).

These values are a consequence of the average higher atmospheric temperature expected in the future years, which some people believe it is due to human actions (climate change).

Electricity Supply Affected by River Flows and Water Temperatures

The simulated values of the river flows and water temperatures reported above would cause a noticeable decrease in the electricity production; the average capacities of the thermoelectric power plants will be 6.3-19% lower in Europe and 4.4-16% in US.

Michelle van Vliet, leading scientist of this research, told Decoded Science:

An important aspect of this investigation is that it shows that the electricity sector is not just a cause of the climate change (with greenhouse gas emissions) but it is also affected / impacted by it. Considering these effects and the expected increase in future electricity demand, it is recommended that the energy sector will reconsider their strategies concerning the production locations and the associated infrastructure.”


US Energy Information Administration. International Electricity GenerationAccessed June 8, 2012.

M.T.H. van Vliet, et al. Vulnerability of US and European electricity supply to climate change. (2012). Nature Climate Change, doi:10.1038/nclimate1546. Accessed June 8, 2012.

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