Water shortages threaten electricity generation, study warns

Adaption measures are urgently needed to stop power plants around the world being crippled by droughts caused by global warming, new research suggests.

7th January 2016

Water shortages threaten electricity generation, study warns

Adaption measures are urgently needed to stop power plants around the world being crippled by droughts caused by global warming, new research suggests.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, was authored by Michelle TH van Vliet, Sylvain Leduc, David Wiberg, and Keywan Riahi of Wageningen University and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. It asserts that hydropower and thermoelectric power currently generates 98% of global electricity and that both strongly depend on water availability to function. This leaves them extremely vulnerable to expected shortages due to climate change.

Lower river levels and warmer water temperatures could cause 61-74% of hydroelectric plants, which rely on water to drive turbines, to see a significant reduction in capacity. For fossil-, nuclear- and biomass-fuelled power plants, where water is required as a cooling agent, the number seeing a reduction in capacity could be as high as 86%, the study suggests.

The demand for water for power generation is expected to double over the next 40 years; however, as global weather patterns shift, regions such as South America − where hydropower provides nearly two-thirds of electricity − will face severe water shortages over the same period.

A 10% increase in efficiency in hydropower plants is needed to offset these changes, according to the report, and adaption options needed to be included in current planning designs. Thermo-electric plants need to convert to seawater or dry air cooling, while coal-fired plants − which use the most water − should be phased out in favour of gas-fired plants, the study advises.

Published by Green Jobs Online - 7th January 2015

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