Projecting Future Colorado River Basin Water and Hydropower Operations

Thushara De Silva, Thomas Veselka, Jennie Jorgenson, Quentin Ploussard, Clayton Palmer, Stacy Russ

Research output: NRELPresentation


Drought, variable renewable energy (VRE) resources (primarily wind and photovoltaic technologies), and power markets can all impact hydropower plant operations. We analyze how these three factors collectively may potentially change the future operation and economics of federal dams and hydropower plants located in the Colorado River Basin (CRB). Federal CRB energy and capacity resources, including 4,200 MW of hydropower capacity, are marketed by Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) and sold through long-term Firm Electric Service (FES) contracts to entities located in 15 western and central States that serve millions of electricity consumers. The parameters of FES contracts allow a wide range of scheduling flexibility for FES customers. The FES customers will adjust the timing of energy delivery according to the changing water, power market, and VRE contribution level to the power grid. We simulate and project water and hydropower operations with two models: 1) reservoir operation and 2) power system operation (production cost) with various temporal granularity. We consider two sets of grid scenarios (one representing today's infrastructure, and one representing higher VRE contributions in 2036) and two sets of water scenarios (drought and normal hydrology). We modeled scenarios to understand the power market-energy price levels and patterns, FES customer scheduling, hydropower economics, WAPA finances and hydropower operation for various hydrologic conditions, and VRE contribution level to the power grid. The detailed modeling framework includes: (1) creating ensembles of CRB hydrologic and hydropower futures, (2) selecting representative futures, (3) simulation of FES customer contracts, (4) simulating western U.S. power grid economic scheduling and dispatch under two VRE contribution levels, utilizing information from modeling steps (1)-(4), (5) assessment of reservoir water and hydropower operation, and (6) comparing scenario operations and economics. Our study team comprising WAPA, and an interdisciplinary team of national labs will gain insight into how WAPA can prepare for and adapt its practices in response to an evolving U.S. power grid.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages11
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, 12-16 December 2022, Chicago, Illinois

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-6A40-84748


  • Colorado River
  • drought
  • hydropower
  • production cost model
  • renewable energy
  • western power grid


Dive into the research topics of 'Projecting Future Colorado River Basin Water and Hydropower Operations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this