Multi-model assessment of global hydropower and cooling water discharge potential under climate change

M.T.H. van Vliet*, L.P.H. van Beek, S. Eisner, M. Flörke, Y. Wada, M.F.P. Bierkens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

46 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Worldwide, 98% of total electricity is currently produced by thermoelectric power and hydropower. Climate change is expected to directly impact electricity supply, in terms of both water availability for hydropower generation and cooling water usage for thermoelectric power. Improved understanding of how climate change may impact the availability and temperature of water resources is therefore of major importance. Here we use a multi-model ensemble to show the potential impacts of climate change on global hydropower and cooling water discharge potential. For the first time, combined projections of streamflow and water temperature were produced with three global hydrological models (GHMs) to account for uncertainties in the structure and parametrization of these GHMs in both water availability and water temperature. The GHMs were forced with bias-corrected output of five general circulation models (GCMs) for both the lowest and highest representative concentration pathways (RCP2.6 and RCP8.5). The ensemble projections of streamflow and water temperature were then used to quantify impacts on gross hydropower potential and cooling water discharge capacity of rivers worldwide. We show that global gross hydropower potential is expected to increase between +2.4% (GCM-GHM ensemble mean for RCP 2.6) and +6.3% (RCP 8.5) for the 2080s compared to 1971–2000. The strongest increases in hydropower potential are expected for Central Africa, India, central Asia and the northern high-latitudes, with 18–33% of the world population living in these areas by the 2080s. Global mean cooling water discharge capacity is projected to decrease by 4.5-15% (2080s). The largest reductions are found for the United States, Europe, eastern Asia, and southern parts of South America, Africa and Australia, where strong water temperature increases are projected combined with reductions in mean annual streamflow. These regions are expected to affect 11–14% (for RCP2.6 and the shared socio-economic pathway (SSP)1, SSP2, SSP4) and 41–51% (RCP8.5–SSP3, SSP5) of the world population by the 2080s.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-170
JournalGlobal environmental change : human and policy dimensions
Volume40
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Cooling water
  • Global hydrological models
  • Hydropower
  • Water resources
  • Water temperature

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