Economic implications of climate-driven trends in global hydropower generation

Thursday, December 14, 2017 - 17:15
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Recent progress in global scale hydrological and dam modeling has allowed for the study of climate change impacts on global hydropower production. Here we explore how these impacts could affect the composition of global electricity supply, and what those changes could mean for power sector emissions and investment needs in the 21st century. Regional hydropower projections are developed for two emissions scenarios by forcing a coupled global hydrological and dam model (1593 major hydropower dams; 54% global installed capacity) with downscaled, bias-corrected climate realizations derived from sixteen General Circulation Models (GCMs). To incorporate possible non-linearity in hydropower response to climate change, dam simulations incorporate plant specifications (e.g., maximum turbine flow), reservoir storage dynamics, reservoir bathymetry, evaporation losses and bespoke, site specific operations. Consequent impacts on regional and global-level electricity generation and associated emissions and investment costs are examined using the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM). We show that changes in hydropower generation resulting from climate change can shift power demands onto and away from carbon intensive technologies, resulting in significant impacts on CO2 emissions for several regions. Many of these countries are also highly vulnerable to investment impacts (costs of new electricity generating facilities to make up for shortfalls in hydro), which in some cases amount to tens of billions of dollars by 2100. The Balkans region—typified by weak economies in a drying region that relies heavily on hydropower—emerges as the most vulnerable. Reduced impacts of climate change on hydropower production under a low emissions scenario coincide with increased costs of marginal power generating capacity (low emissions requires greater uptake of clean generating technologies, which are more expensive). This means impacts on power sector investment costs are similar for high and low emissions scenarios.

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