Article

Climate change and the vulnerability of electricity generation to water stress in the European Union

  • Nature Energy 2, Article number: 17114 (2017)
  • doi:10.1038/nenergy.2017.114
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Abstract

Thermoelectric generation requires large amounts of water for cooling. Recent warm periods have led to curtailments in generation, highlighting concerns about security of supply. Here we assess EU-wide climate impacts for 1,326 individual thermoelectric plants and 818 water basins in 2020 and 2030. We show that, despite policy goals and a decrease in electricity-related water withdrawal, the number of regions experiencing some reduction in power availability due to water stress rises from 47 basins to 54 basins between 2014 and 2030, with further plants planned for construction in stressed basins. We examine the reasons for these pressures by including water demand for other uses. The majority of vulnerable basins lie in the Mediterranean region, with further basins in France, Germany and Poland. We investigate four adaptations, finding that increased future seawater cooling eases some pressures. This highlights the need for an integrated, basin-level approach in energy and water policy.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the World Resources Institute and R. Hofste for their support.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Leiden University College The Hague, Anna van Buerenplein 301, 2595 DG, The Hague, the Netherlands

    • Paul Behrens
    • , Tijmen Nanninga
    •  & Brid Walsh
  2. Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML), Leiden University, PO Box 9518, 2300 RA Leiden, the Netherlands

    • Paul Behrens
    •  & João F. D. Rodrigues
  3. Water Systems and Global change, Wageningen University, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, the Netherlands

    • Michelle T. H. van Vliet

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Contributions

P.B. designed the study and performed analysis. M.T.H.v.V. provided specific data and input on drafting. J.F.D.R. assisted with the analysis. T.N. assisted in preparing the data set of power plants. P.B. drafted the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul Behrens.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1–9, Supplementary Tables 1–14, Supplementary Notes 1–2 and Supplementary References