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Climate change effects on hydropower in California

Climate change effects on hydropower in California

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Preface. The main impact of climate change will be on hydropower in California, which is the largest source of renewable electric power. Besides natural gas, it is the only dispatchable form of power to balance unreliable, intermittent wind and solar power.

But hydropower is often unavailable (i.e. drought, low reservoirs, to provide months of agriculture and drinking water, protect fisheries, etc).

CEC. September 2014. Climate change impacts on generation of wind, solar, and hydropower in California. California Energy Commission Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory .


The study findings for hydroelectric power generation show significant reductions that are a consequence of the large predicted reduction in annual mean precipitation in the global climate models used. Reduced precipitation and resulting reductions in runoff result in reduced hydropower generation in all months and elevation bands. These results indicate that a future that is both drier and warmer would have important impacts on the ability to generate electricity from hydropower.

Increased production of electricity from renewables, although desirable from environmental and other viewpoints, may create difficulties in consistently meeting demand for electricity and may complicate the job of operating the state’s transmission system. This would be true of any major change in electrical supply portfolio but is especially so when the proportion of weather-dependent renewables- which are subject to uncontrolled fluctuations-is increased.

Climate change may affect the ability to generate needed amounts of electricity from weather-dependent renewable resources. This could compromise California’s ability to meet renewable targets. For example, it is well documented that climate change is affecting the seasonal timing of river flows such that less hydropower is generated during months of peak demand and maximum electricity value. Generating solar and wind power may also be impacted by long-term changes in climate.

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