Climate Impacts on U.S. Electric Sector Evolution and Water Use Under Varying Market Futures: Are Some Energy Technologies and Regions More Affected by Climate Than Others?

Yinong Sun, Stuart Cohen, Jordan Macknick, Ariel Miara, Robin Newmark, Charles Vörösmarty, Fabio Corsi, Balazs Fekete, Vince Tidwell

Research output: NRELPoster


Climate impacts on air temperatures and water availability have the potential to alter future electricity sector investment decisions as well as the reliability and performance of the U.S. power system. Different electricity sector configurations are more or less vulnerable to climate-induced changes. For example, once-through cooled thermal facilities are very efficient under cooler and wetter conditions but can be more vulnerable under warmer and drier conditions. Non-thermal renewable technologies are essentially 'drought-proof' but have other reliability challenges. Prior efforts have explored the impacts of climate change on electric sector for a limited set of climate and electricity scenarios. Here, we provide a comprehensive suite of scenarios that evaluate how different electricity sector market futures in the U.S. could be affected by a range of climate and water resource conditions. We use four representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios under five global circulation models (GCM) as climate drivers to a Water Balance Model (WBM), for twenty unique future climate-water conditions modeled through 2050. The electric sector impacts of these climate-water futures are then evaluated by the Regional Energy Deployment Systems (ReEDS) electricity capacity expansion model. To explore a breadth of possible electricity market futures, four electricity sector scenarios are considered to represent different carbon emission and water usage conditions: (1) business-as-usual, (2) CO2 cap, (3) CO2 cap with high renewable energy costs and extended nuclear lifetimes, and (4) continued coal reliance that maintains the existing coal fleet through 2050. Thus, we examine 84 possible futures in total when including a static climate representation of each market scenario. Results indicate that U.S. electric sector responds to climate change by constructing a combination of gas-fired and low-carbon generating sources, and the balance between technologies are determined by fuel prices, technology costs and policy. The cost for power sector to respond to climate change are generally proportional to the costs of electricity system components, while the relative sensitivity and vulnerability to climate pressures will vary across different generating technologies and different regions.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2018

Publication series

NamePresented at the 2018 AGU Fall Meeting, 10-14 December 2018, Washington, D.C.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PO-6A20-72916


  • climate impacts
  • electric sector evolution
  • electricity generation
  • electricity sector
  • infrastructure
  • power system


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