Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Vulnerability of US thermoelectric power generation to climate change when incorporating state-level environmental regulations

Abstract

Previous modelling studies suggest that thermoelectric power generation is vulnerable to climate change, whereas studies based on historical data suggest the impact will be less severe. Here we explore the vulnerability of thermoelectric power generation in the United States to climate change by coupling an Earth system model with a thermoelectric power generation model, including state-level representation of environmental regulations on thermal effluents. We find that the impact of climate change is lower than in previous modelling estimates due to an inclusion of a spatially disaggregated representation of environmental regulations and provisional variances that temporarily relieve power plants from permit requirements. More specifically, our results indicate that climate change alone may reduce average generating capacity by 2–3% by the 2060s, while reductions of up to 12% are expected if environmental requirements are enforced without waivers for thermal variation. Our work highlights the significance of accounting for legal constructs and underscores the effects of provisional variances in addition to environmental requirements.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: EPA state water temperature standards criteria.
Figure 2: Projected average monthly usable capacity under the RCP4.5 scenario.
Figure 3: Average usable capacity reductions under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 scenarios.

References

  1. 1

    Maupin, M. A. et al. Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2010 Circular 1405 (USGS, 2010).

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Transforming the Nation’s Electricity System: The Second Installment of the Quadrennial Energy Review (DoE, 2017); https://energy.gov/epsa/quadrennial-energy-review-qer

  3. 3

    Impact of Drought on US Steam Electric Power Plant Cooling Water Intakes and Related Water Resource Management Issues Report DOE/NETL-2009/1364 (National Energy Technology Laboratory, 2009).

  4. 4

    Illinois EPA Grants Exelon Quad Cities Station Provisional Variance from Discharge Requirements (IEPA, 2012); http://ediillinois.org/ppa/meta/html/00/00/00/04/22/45.html

  5. 5

    Stillwell, A. S. & Webber, M. E. Evaluation of power generation operations in response to changes in surface water reservoir storage. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 025014 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Webster, M., Donohoo, P. & Palmintier, B. Water–CO2 trade-offs in electricity generation planning. Nat. Clim. Change 3, 1029–1032 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Greis, S., Schulz, J. & Müller, U. Management of Weather and Climate Risk in the Energy Industry 267–280 (Springer, 2010).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    van Vliet, M. T. H. et al. Vulnerability of US and European electricity supply to climate change. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 676–681 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    van Vliet, M. T. H., Wiberg, D., Leduc, S. & Riahi, K. Power-generation system vulnerability and adaptation to changes in climate and water resources. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 375–380 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    US Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather (US Department of Energy, 2013).

  11. 11

    Madden, N., Lewis, A. & Davis, M. Thermal effluent from the power sector: an analysis of once-through cooling system impacts on surface water temperature. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 035006 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Stewart, R. J. et al. Horizontal cooling towers: riverine ecosystem services and the fate of thermoelectric heat in the contemporary Northeast US. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 025010 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Impact of Future Climate Variability of ERCOT Thermoelectric Power Generation. Report ANL/EVS/R-13/2 (Argonne National Laboratory, 2013); http://www.ipd.anl.gov/anlpubs/2013/03/75723.pdf

  15. 15

    Miara, A. & Vörösmarty, C. J. A dynamic model to assess tradeoffs in power production and riverine ecosystem protection. Environ. Sci. Process. Impacts 15, 1113–1126 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Henry, C. L. & Pratson, L. F. Effects of environmental temperature change on the efficiency of coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. Environ. Sci. Technol. 50, 9764–9772 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Implementation of Clean Water Act Section 316(a) Thermal Variances in NPDES Permits (Review of Existing Requirements) (EPA, 2008).

  18. 18

    Temperature: Water Quality Standards Criteria Summaries: a Compilation of State/Federal Criteria (EPA, 1998).

  19. 19

    Micha, P. In hot water: clean water act provisional variances and their relationship to the impact of heat waves and droughts on the supply and demand of electricity. Chicago-Kent J. Environ. Energy Law 4, 1–34 (2014).

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Thomson, A. M. et al. RCP4.5: a pathway for stabilization of radiative forcing by 2100. Climatic Change 109, 77–94 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Riahi, K. et al. RCP 8.5-A scenario of comparatively high greenhouse gas emissions. Climatic Change 109, 33–57 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    Liu, L. et al. Water demands for electricity generation in the US: modeling different scenarios for the water–energy nexus. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change 94, 318–334 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23

    Webber, M. R. Thirst for Power: Energy, Water and Human Survival 248 (Yale Univ. Press, 2016).

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24

    Talati, S. et al. Consumptive water use from electricity generation in the Southwest under alternative climate, technology, and policy futures. Environ. Sci. Technol. 50, 12095–12104 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Hejazi, M. I. et al. 21st century United States emissions mitigation could increase water stress more than the climate change it is mitigating. Proc. Natl Acad Sci. USA 112, 10635–10640 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is operated for DOE by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-76RL01830. We would also like to acknowledge EW3 Baseline Assessment Team for making UCS EW3 Energy-Water Database V.1.3 publicly available.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

L.L. and M.H. designed the study, L.L. performed all analyses and collaborated with H.L. and X.Z. in generating model input data. B.F. and M.H. worked on drafting and re-writing the manuscript. All authors contributed to the discussion of the results.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lu Liu.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figures 1–7, Supplementary Tables 1–4, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Notes 1–3 and Supplementary References (PDF 1183 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Liu, L., Hejazi, M., Li, H. et al. Vulnerability of US thermoelectric power generation to climate change when incorporating state-level environmental regulations. Nat Energy 2, 17109 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2017.109

Download citation

Further reading

Search

Quick links