This Dam Weather

Courtesy of HeatMap, a look at climate change’s impact on American hydro power:

Climate change and energy production are in a kind of twisted embrace. There’s the obvious aspect of it: Much of the energy produced today comes from burning hydrocarbons, which leads to further building up of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, causing climate change. To fix that, more energy has to be generated from sources that don’t emit carbon.

But here’s the less obvious aspect: The weather, and therefore the climate, also affects how much energy can be produced from non-carbon-emitting sources.

This can mean something as simple as smoke produced by wildfire obscuring the sun and leading to less solar power production, but it really matters a lot for power derived from rain and snowmelt.

In the United States, a major portion of our non-carbon-emitting energy comes from hydropower. And hydropower capacity — literally the amount of water stored in reservoirs — is affected by the climate.

In the Pacific Northwest, which has an extensive system of dams that provide much of the region’s power, the Energy Information Administration expects that hydropower generation will fall off by about a fifth for 2023 compared to 2022 — 19 percent to be exact.

The EIA credited the forecast reduction to “above-normal temperatures in May … [that] melted snow rapidly, resulting in a significant loss of water supply.” In the first six months of the year, hydropower generation fell off by 24 percent.

But what climate can take away in one region, it can give in another. While the Northwest has about half of the country’s hydropower, much of the remainder is in California, which experienced a record-setting wet and snowy winter. And that means very full reservoirs. The EIA said that the state had 94 percent more hydropower generation in the first half of the year compared to 2022 and expected almost double 2022’s generation for the whole year.

And that pattern may be repeated.

The expected El Niño weather pattern this winter “is associated with wetter-than-average conditions in the Southwest United States, including parts of California, and warmer-than-average temperatures in the Northwest,” according to the EIA.

This entry was posted on Saturday, September 30th, 2023 at 7:46 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”