Drought effects on aging power plants may be larger than expected

Drought effects on aging power plants may be larger than expected

SOURCE: Duke University DATE: March 26, 2019 SNIP: Older power plants with once-through cooling systems generate about a third of all U.S. electricity, but their future generating capacity will be undercut by droughts and rising water temperatures linked to climate change. These impacts would be exacerbated by environmental regulations that limit water use. The new study shows that if surface waters warm 3 degrees Centigrade and river flows drop 20 percent — both of which are probable by the end of the century — drought-related impacts will account for about 20 percent of all capacity reductions at thermoelectric power plants with once-through, or open-loop, cooling systems. These reductions include capacity curtailments or shutdowns that could occur when local surface water levels drop below a plant’s intake structures. Environmental regulations that govern a plant’s water use and the maximum temperature of used cooling water it can discharge back into rivers or lakes will account for much of the remaining 80 percent of future shutdowns and capacity cuts, Pratson said. Thermoelectric power plants use steam-driven turbines to generate their energy. Once the steam has passed through the turbines it must be cooled down. Once-through systems do this by drawing in cold water from nearby rivers or lakes, circulating it through pipes to absorb the steam’s heat, and discharging the heated water back into the river or...
An unexpected side effect of drought: Higher carbon emissions

An unexpected side effect of drought: Higher carbon emissions

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: December 21, 2018 SNIP: During the darkest days of the drought that has gripped the western U.S. since the early 2000s, fires raged and crops withered. Dust storms rolled across plains and valleys. And rivers shriveled from north to south. But the drought had less obvious effects on climate and the environment, too: Low river flows drastically hampered the amount of carbon-free electricity [sic] that could be produced by the thousands of hydroelectric power plants dotted along rivers and reservoirs across the West. If energy utilities can’t get the power they need from hydroelectric sources, they have to fill that gap with something else. Most of the time, the researchers found, the utilities fell back on carbon-emitting sources like natural gas and coal to fill their power needs. Now, a group of researchers has done the carbon math to see how big that effect was. They figured out that an extra 100 megatons of carbon ended up in the atmosphere because utilities had to use carbon-emitting power sources instead of hydroelectric power during drought, added up over the 15 years they studied. That’s the equivalent of adding about 1.4 million cars to the road for every one of those years. “Droughts are going to get worse, and that could mean more natural gas and coal being burned,” says Peter Gleick, a water expert at the Pacific Institute, a research organization in Oakland. Related: Hydroelectric dams emit a billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, study...
Oregon, Already Struggling With Drought, May Have Still More to Come

Oregon, Already Struggling With Drought, May Have Still More to Come

SOURCE: Water Deeply DATE: October 24, 2018 SNIP: Oregon is known by many as a wet place, with persistent rain and forests enveloped in fog. This year is different. In a matter of just six weeks over the summer, one-third of Oregon was instead enveloped by extreme drought. That figure comes from the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), a branch of NOAA. The results also rank 86 percent of Oregon in severe drought territory, a slightly less severe category. The Oregon drought this year is most striking because it covers many coastal areas known historically as some of the wettest in the country. “Only the northeast corner of Oregon experienced somewhat normal amounts of precipitation and snowpack,” Rancier said. “The rest of the state was drier and warmer than normal.” That low snowpack was due, in part, to higher temperatures. Portland, for instance, saw its hottest year in recorded history, with more days above 90 degrees than ever before. Without a deep snowpack contributing to streamflow the state dried out very quickly after last winter. The Willamette Valley experienced its driest ever May through September period. In September, statewide streamflows averaged just 55 percent of normal, and many reservoirs across the state were at less than 25 percent of capacity at the end of the month. El Niño, a periodic warming of equatorial Pacific Ocean waters, often means relatively dry winter conditions in the Northwest – including Oregon. In a report issued Oct. 18, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said there is a 70–75 percent chance of El Niño forming by late fall. Warmer-than-normal conditions are expected throughout the...
‘A hot drought’: Warming is driving much of the Colorado River’s decline, scientists say

‘A hot drought’: Warming is driving much of the Colorado River’s decline, scientists say

SOURCE: AZ Central (USA Today) DATE: September 7, 2018 SNIP: Since 2000, the amount of water flowing in the Colorado River has dropped 19 percent below the average of the past century, a decline that has left the Southwest on the brink of a water shortage. Now, new research indicates that a large portion of that decline isn’t due to less rain and snow falling from the sky, but to warmer temperatures brought on by climate change. Scientists from the University of California-Los Angeles and Colorado State University found that about half the trend of decreasing runoff from 2000-2014 in the Upper Colorado River Basin was the result of unprecedented warming across the region. “A good chunk of the decline we’re seeing right now is temperature-related. And as the Earth continues to warm, we’re going to see less flow in the river,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University who co-authored the research. “We need to prepare for a river that has significantly less water in it.” [The researchers] calculated that 53 percent of the trend was linked to warming, which has shrunk the average snowpack in the mountains, boosted the uptake of water by plants and increased the amount of water that evaporates off the landscape. The researchers attributed the remaining 47 percent of the decrease in the river’s flow to shifts in precipitation patterns, with less rain and snow falling in four areas of Colorado that tend to be especially productive in feeding tributaries in the Rocky Mountains. The study, which was published Aug. 30 in the journal Water Resources Research, is...
Crop damage mounts for EU farmers after torrid summer

Crop damage mounts for EU farmers after torrid summer

SOURCE: Reuters DATE: August 22, 2018 SNIP: European farmers are counting the cost of a summer heatwave that has shrunk cereal harvests and shriveled pastures, leaving some farms struggling to survive and shutting the EU out of lucrative export markets. The severe weather in Europe has coincided with adverse growing conditions in other major grain producing zones such as Russia and Australia, raising the risk that supplies in exporting countries will be eroded to their smallest in years. The latest harvest estimates have underlined the impact of drought and heatwaves in northern Europe. Germany’s farmers’ association DBV on Wednesday forecast a 22 percent plunge in grain production this year in the European Union’s second-largest cereal grower. Germany endured its highest summer temperatures in over a century as extreme weather gripped northern Europe from Britain to the Baltic states. The combination of poor harvest yields and shriveled grassland has led to spiraling costs for animal feed, putting pressure on livestock farms. A sharp drop in the EU’s wheat harvest will also limit exports from the bloc, adding to nervousness about global supply given weather issues elsewhere, including in top wheat exporter Russia. The weather woes in northern Europe and speculation about possible Russian government restrictions on grain exports have contributed to renewed price volatility on international...