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Researchers propose a framework for assessing the impact of climate change on California’s water and energy systems

Hydroelectric power plants such as the Shastadam along the Sacramento River are essential to California’s water and energy needs.Credit: US Development Agency

As the planet continues to warm, two challenges will be exacerbated: reduced water supply and increased energy demand. However, water and energy are closely related. For example, nearly one-fifth of California’s energy goes to water-related activities, and more than one-tenth of the state’s electricity comes from hydropower. When society tries to adapt to one task, it must not make the other worse.


To this end, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the University of California, Berkeley have framed to assess how different climate adaptations affect this water energy link. I have developed a work.Their research is published in open access journals Environmental research letter..

“Electrical and water systems are linked in many different ways,” said co-author Ranjit Deshmuk, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Research. “Climate change is expected to emphasize these connections, so we have presented a framework that maps these interdependencies and enables us to understand and quantify their impact on energy and water connections.”

This is not the first study to consider these topics, but it takes a more subtle approach than previous treatises. “There have been many analyzes of how climate change affects the water and energy sectors separately, but those studies usually did not look at the interactions and feedback between the two,” Berkeley said. Julia Sinai, lead author of the Institute’s Department of Climate and Ecosystem Sciences, said. “Our paper is a generalized framework that identifies how climate change affects these combined water and power systems, and potential adaptation to future gaps in supply and demand. By doing so, we explain the often overlooked trade-offs and synergies in adapting to climate change. “

This framework uses system analysis to identify the largest potential climate stressors in the water and energy sector. Quantify the behaviors needed to adapt to climate change and look at the feedback that results from these behaviors.

“For example, our framework shows how rising temperatures due to climate change can increase electricity demand for air conditioning and water demand for irrigation,” explains Deshmuk. did. “On the other hand, reduced snow cover and fluctuations in precipitation in the Sierra Nevada Mountains affect water supply not only for use in cities and agriculture, but also for cooling hydropower and thermal power plants.”

California relies on snow cover in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to slowly fill the water throughout the year.

The team applied the framework it developed to California. California relies on heavy snowfall for large amounts of water and consumes significant amounts of energy to transport water from the north to the south of the state. They considered multiple adaptation strategies in the water sector and found that some were energy-intensive and others could actually save both water and energy.

Researchers have integrated data across several fragmented studies to estimate the overall future range of the state’s possible water and energy under various climate scenarios at the end of the century. Their analysis shows that climate change is likely to be dominated by two factors that directly impact California’s electricity sector: increased air conditioning loads and reduced availability of hydropower. I did.

Researchers propose a framework for assessing the impact of climate change on California's water and energy systems

The climate crisis has seriously affected California’s water-energy connection. Here is a comparison of the full water reservoir behind the Folsom Dam in July 2011 and the water level under extreme drought in January 2014.Credit: US Development Agency

“One of the most important points of this paper is that adapting water systems to climate change can significantly exacerbate grid stress or, conversely, help alleviate it.” Said co-author and climate scientist at the Berkeley Institute. Andrew Jones. “If we focus on using large amounts of water movement between basins or adapting water systems using energy-intensive desalination, electrical problems become much more difficult. On the other hand, when adapting a water system, saving water also reduces the energy required for water, which is actually a win-win situation. “

Today, an astonishing 19% of California’s electricity consumption goes to water-related applications such as treatment, transportation, pumping and heating. In addition, about 15% of the state’s electricity generation comes from hydropower.

The state has already seen some of the impacts of climate change on water energy systems. The long-term drought exacerbated by climate change caused a surge in electricity consumption from groundwater pumps, and the corresponding lack of hydropower required replacement with more polluted fossil fuels.

The team is confident that the climate crisis will have a significant impact on the state’s future water supply. However, the effect is very uncertain. In the worst case, the available water supply can be reduced by 25%. However, it can increase by 46%.

“There are significant uncertainties in predicting precipitation climate models,” said Deshmukh. “But regardless of those uncertainties, adaptations provide significant co-benefits.” Saving water saves consumers energy and money, in the state’s natural streams and rivers. Allows for more flow.

When the team applies the framework to the worst-case scenarios, choosing the most energy-intensive adaptation strategies in the water sector can result in energy imbalances as large as those directly caused by climate change. understood.

“I think this is the first study to show that adaptation of the water sector can have as much impact on the electricity sector as the direct impact of climate change itself,” Jones said.

“This study highlighted the benefits of a coordinated adaptation plan between the two sectors,” added lead author Szinai. “Therefore, we are currently linking a more detailed water resources management model with a power planning model that can demonstrate resilient routes for building electricity. If climate change impacts are included from the water sector. US West Infrastructure. “

Deshmukh is currently leading a team investigating the relationship between energy, water and climate by quantifying the impact of climate change on hydroelectric dams and thermal power plants in 12 countries in southern Africa. He wants to identify the best investment in power infrastructure.

“California has the option of how we want the water sector to adapt to the effects of climate change,” said Deshmuk. “States can pursue energy-intensive climate adaptation measures such as desalination or develop a portfolio of measures that maximize the potential for water conservation. Water and energy sector planners and policy makers. One needs to coordinate actions and plans to adapt to climate change. ”


Cross-border and cross-sectoral cooperation can boost sustainable development


For more information:
Julia K Szinai et al. Assessing the Cross-Sectoral Impact of Climate Change and Adaptation on Energy and Water Connections: Framework and California Case Studies, Environmental research letter (2020). DOI: 10.1088 / 1748-9326 / abc378

Courtesy of the University of California, Santa Barbara

Quote: Researchers, California Water and Energy System (January 7, 2021) acquired from https://phys.org/news/2021-01-framework-impacts-climate-california on January 7, 2021. ) Proposes a framework for assessing the impact of climate change-energy.html

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Researchers propose a framework for assessing the impact of climate change on California’s water and energy systems

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