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Impacts of climate change on electric power supply in the Western United States


Climate change may constrain future electricity generation capacity by increasing the incidence of extreme heat and drought events. We estimate reductions to generating capacity in the Western United States based on long-term changes in streamflow, air temperature, water temperature, humidity and air density. We simulate these key parameters over the next half-century by joining downscaled climate forcings with a hydrologic modelling system. For vulnerable power stations (46% of existing capacity), climate change may reduce average summertime generating capacity by 1.1–3.0%, with reductions of up to 7.2–8.8% under a ten-year drought. At present, power providers do not account for climate impacts in their development plans, meaning that they could be overestimating their ability to meet future electricity needs.

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Figure 1: Average reductions in summertime capacity by mid-century (2040–2060) for vulnerable facilities in the WECC region.
Figure 2: Average annualized power generation capacity for representative hydrologic regions.
Figure 3: Summertime power generation capacity for representative generation technologies from 1949–2060.


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This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation (grant numbers IMEE 1335556, IMEE 1335640, WSC 1360509, RIPS 1441352 and BCS 102686).

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M.D.B. and M.V.C. designed the study. M.D.B. performed all analyses and collaborated with M.V.C. in interpreting the results and drafting the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Matthew D. Bartos.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Bartos, M., Chester, M. Impacts of climate change on electric power supply in the Western United States. Nature Clim Change 5, 748–752 (2015).

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