Examining global electricity supply vulnerability to climate change using a high-fidelity hydropower dam model

Sci Total Environ. 2017 Jul 15:590-591:663-675. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.03.022. Epub 2017 Mar 7.


An important and plausible impact of a changing global climate is altered power generation from hydroelectric dams. Here we project 21st century global hydropower production by forcing a coupled, global hydrological and dam model with three General Circulation Model (GCM) projections run under two emissions scenarios. Dams are simulated using a detailed model that accounts for plant specifications, storage dynamics, reservoir bathymetry and realistic, optimized operations. We show that the inclusion of these features can have a non-trivial effect on the simulated response of hydropower production to changes in climate. Simulation results highlight substantial uncertainty in the direction of change in globally aggregated hydropower production (~-5 to +5% change in mean global production by the 2080s under a high emissions scenario, depending on GCM). Several clearly impacted hotspots are identified, the most prominent of which encompasses the Mediterranean countries in southern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. In this region, hydropower production is projected to be reduced by approximately 40% on average by the end of the century under a high emissions scenario. After accounting for each country's dependence on hydropower for meeting its current electricity demands, the Balkans countries emerge as the most vulnerable (~5-20% loss in total national electricity generation depending on country). On the flipside, a handful of countries in Scandinavia and central Asia are projected to reap a significant increase in total electrical production (~5-15%) without investing in new power generation facilities.

Keywords: Climate change; Dams; Global; Hydropower; Water resources; Water-energy nexus.