Heat Waves, Droughts, and the Energy System

According to the IPCC,  it “is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.” For instance, by midcentury, the number of heat wave days in Los Angeles is expected to at least double over the late twentieth century, and quadrupling is expected by the end of the century. This doesn’t mean that the average temperature will increase dramatically, but the number of extreme events will go up sharply.

These changes will have significant effects on our energy system. Electricity generation uses water to turn turbines for hydropower or produce steam for thermoelectric power, and it also uses cooling water to condense the steam produced by thermoelectric generation. It accounts for 48% of total water withdrawals and 3% of freshwater consumption in the United States.  Heatwaves and droughts directly impact this water use.  For instance, in the big European heat wave, nuclear reactors had to cut back or even close down.  Hydropower is also obviously sensitive to drought. In the summer of 2001, drought drained hydroelectric power resources for the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.

Renewable energy becomes an increasingly attractive alternative because it is not sensitive to heat or drought.  Improved demand management and greater capacity to import power also become important. In addition, we should think about increasing water storage capacity and about improved efficiency in using water to cope with potential reduced supplies.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reader Comments

4 Replies to “Heat Waves, Droughts, and the Energy System”

  1. Hi Dan,

    Good post. Due to this year’s low precipitation, the few California utilities dependent on small hydro for their RPS will find this a challenging year.

    However I need to make the following corrections.

    * PVs are indeed sensitive to heat, efficiency declines as temperatures rise.
    * Wind energy will also be affected by climate change. Projected impacts however are highly dependent on location. See http://www.vertumpartners.com/news.html

    JP

  2. Hi Dan,

    Good post. Due to this year’s low precipitation, the few California utilities dependent on small hydro for their RPS will find this a challenging year.

    However I need to make the following corrections.

    * PVs are indeed sensitive to heat, efficiency declines as temperatures rise.
    * Wind energy will also be affected by climate change. Projected impacts however are highly dependent on location. See http://www.vertumpartners.com/news.html

    JP

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About Dan

Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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