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


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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Figure 1: Variations in water stress and power availability across the EU.
Figure 2: Impacts of adaptation strategies across Europe.


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

Author information




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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul Behrens.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Figures 1–9, Supplementary Tables 1–14, Supplementary Notes 1–2 and Supplementary References (PDF 1155 kb)

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Behrens, P., van Vliet, M., Nanninga, T. et al. Climate change and the vulnerability of electricity generation to water stress in the European Union. Nat Energy 2, 17114 (2017).

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