Water and Climate Impacts on ERCOT Long-Term Systems Assessment

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

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Water and climate change pose many potential challenges to the electric power system. Substantial water is withdrawn every day to support thermoelectric power generating unit operations, and changes to water supply have the potential to affect generation dispatch. Climate change can accelerate growing demand for electricity, which can necessitate additional generating capacity, often in locations with limited water supply. Drought conditions also threaten thermoelectric power plant operations due to streamflow and reservoir levels dropping below intake structures, or water temperatures exceeding a power plants' permitted operating conditions. Here we explore how future climate change might influence decisions related to electricity capacity expansion planning in Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) using a multi-model framework. Specifically, water resource modeling is used to simulate climate impacts on the future water supply for thermoelectric and hydropower generation for four future climate projections. Separately, temperature impacts on electricity load are evaluated for these scenarios. These climate impacts are applied to five alternative electricity futures in an electricity capacity expansion model that projects future generation and transmission capacity additions in ERCOT. Results indicate that climate has a measurable influence on future generation and transmission capacity needs, with temperature-driven increases in peak and average load resulting in 5-15 GW additional generating capacity and up to 1 GW additional transmission capacity. Additional capacity is a diverse mix of PV, natural gas, and wind, depending on the makeup of economic, policy and technology assumptions. Climate impacts increase total system costs 2-5%, while the marginal cost of energy and emissions are not affected substantially by climate change effects.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages30
StatePublished - 2022

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-79581


  • capacity expansion
  • climate change
  • electricity
  • modeling
  • ReEDS


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