A Multi-Model Framework for Assessing Long- and Short-Term Climate Influences on the Electric Grid

Stuart Cohen, Ana Dyreson, Sean Turner, Vince Tidwell, Nathalie Voisin, Ariel Miara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus Citations


Climate change influences many aspects of the electric grid, but prior work and industry practices often ignore the potential effects of changing climate, or they only consider a single effect or individual effects in isolation. Challenges vary with each grid and include adapting to long-term trends such as changing temperature and precipitation or shorter-term events such as drought or storms that could increase in frequency or intensity. Here we present a multi-model framework designed to analyze the effects of long and short-term climate impacts in combination. This framework couples capacity expansion and production cost models with hydrologic models and future climate scenario data to analyze alternative climate and energy futures at high spatial, temporal, and process resolutions. We constructed and evaluated the results of a suite of simulated scenarios exploring climate impacts on capacity investment and stress-tested the resulting future infrastructures using hourly dispatch modeling under alternative drought and load conditions. We demonstrate the approach through a case study of the U.S. Western Interconnection, where climate impacts depend on interactions between temperature-induced load, water availability for hydropower, technology competitiveness, and demand flexibility. Changes in 2038 generating capacity range from −8.5–16.6 GW, and changes in 2038 transmission capacity range from −1–2 GW. Capacity increases are driven by higher load from higher temperatures, while capacity reductions can be achieved in scenarios with higher future hydropower availability and increased demand flexibility. Scenarios requiring additional capacity cost an additional $5–$17 billion (discounted) from 2018 to 2038; however, scenarios with capacity reductions cost $1–$18 billion less. Stress tests on four 2038 infrastructures demonstrated that the identified systems were able to serve at least 99.999% of load and 99.96% of reserves. However, drought and unexpected high-load conditions can result in reduced capacity to respond to contingency events we did not model. Although these results are system and scenario specific, they highlight the importance of considering multiple climate change impacts simultaneously in long-term planning efforts and demonstrate a multi-model, multiscale approach that can be flexibly applied to any system and set of climate change concerns.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number119193
Number of pages14
JournalApplied Energy
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A40-80713


  • Climate change
  • Drought
  • Electricity
  • Electricity planning
  • Grid operations
  • Hydrology


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