Evaluating the Impacts of Climate Change on the Operations and Future Development of the U.S. Electricity System

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 10:20 AM
Robin L Newmark1, Stuart Michael Cohen1, Kristen Averyt2, Jordan Macknick1, James Meldrum2 and Patrick Sullivan1, (1)National Renewable Energy Laboratory Golden, Golden, CO, United States, (2)CIRES, Boulder, CO, United States
Climate change has the potential to exacerbate reliability concerns for the power sector through changes in water availability and air temperatures. The power sector is responsible for 41% of U.S. freshwater withdrawals, primarily for power plant cooling needs, and any changes in the water available for the power sector, given increasing competition among water users, could affect decisions about new power plant builds and reliable operations for existing generators. Similarly, increases in air temperatures can reduce power plant efficiencies, which in turn increases fuel consumption as well as water withdrawal and consumption rates. This analysis describes an initial link between climate, water, and electricity systems using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) electricity system capacity expansion model. Average surface water runoff projections from Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) data are applied to surface water available to generating capacity in ReEDS, and electric sector growth is compared with and without climate-influenced water availability for the 134 electricity balancing regions in the ReEDS model. In addition, air temperature changes are considered for their impacts on electricity load, transmission capacity, and power plant efficiencies and water use rates. Mean climate projections have only a small impact on national or regional capacity growth and water use because most regions have sufficient unappropriated or previously retired water access to offset climate impacts. Climate impacts are notable in southwestern states, which experience reduced water access purchases and a greater share of water acquired from wastewater and other higher-cost water resources. The electric sector climate impacts demonstrated herein establish a methodology to be later exercised with more extreme climate scenarios and a more rigorous representation of legal and physical water availability.