Climate and Water Resource Change Impacts and Adaptation Potential for US Power Supply

Jordan Macknick, Robin Newmark, Ariel Miara, Charles Vorosmarty, Balazs Fekete, Vincent Tidwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus Citations


Power plants that require cooling currently (2015) provide 85% of electricity generation in the United States. These facilities need large volumes of water and sufficiently cool temperatures for optimal operations, and projected climate conditions may lower their potential power output and affect reliability. We evaluate the performance of 1,080 thermoelectric plants across the contiguous US under future climates (2035-2064) and their collective performance at 19 North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) sub-regions. Joint consideration of engineering interactions with climate, hydrology and environmental regulations reveals the region-specific performance of energy systems and the need for regional energy security and climate-water adaptation strategies. Despite climate-water constraints on individual plants, the current power supply infrastructure shows potential for adaptation to future climates by capitalizing on the size of regional power systems, grid configuration and improvements in thermal efficiencies. Without placing climate-water impacts on individual plants in a broader power systems context, vulnerability assessments that aim to support adaptation and resilience strategies misgauge the extent to which regional energy systems are vulnerable. Climate-water impacts can lower thermoelectric reserve margins, a measure of systems-level reliability, highlighting the need to integrate climate-water constraints on thermoelectric power supply into energy planning, risk assessments, and system reliability management.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)793-798
Number of pages6
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2017

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-67678


  • climate
  • energy-water nexus
  • reliability
  • resiliency
  • vulnerability


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