Water-Related Power Plant Curtailments: An Overview of Incidents and Contributing Factors

James McCall, Jordan Macknick, Daniel Hillman

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Water temperatures and water availability can affect the reliable operations of power plants in the United States. Data on water-related impacts on the energy sector are not consolidated and are reported by multiple agencies. This study provides an overview of historical incidents where water resources have affected power plant operations, discusses the various data sources providing information, and creates a publicly available and open access database that contains consolidated information about water-related power plant curtailment and shut down incidents. Power plants can be affected by water resources if incoming water temperatures are too high, water discharge temperatures are too high, or if there is not enough water available to operate. Changes in climate have the potential to exacerbate uncertainty over water resource availability and temperature. Power plant impacts from water resources include curtailment of generation, plant shut downs, and requests for regulatory variances. In addition, many power plants have developed adaptation approaches to reducing the potential risks of water-related issues by investing in new technologies or developing and implementing plans to undertake during droughts or heatwaves. This study identifies 42 incidents of water-related power plant issues from 2000-2015, drawing from a variety of different datasets. These incidents occur throughout the U.S. and affect coal and nuclear plants that use once-through, recirculating, and pond cooling systems. In addition, water temperature violations reported to the Environmental Protection Agency are also considered, with 35 temperature violations noted from 2012-2015. In addition to providing some background information on incidents, this effort has also created an open access database on the Open Energy Information platform that contains information about water-related power plant issues that can be updated by users.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages39
StatePublished - 2016

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-67084


  • climate change
  • curtailment
  • data availability
  • energy-water nexus
  • thermoelectric cooling
  • water


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