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Climate Change puts California hydroelectricity production in danger

Climate change is seen to adversely affect the quantity and timing of water flow in California, and the country's hydropower production, according to a report from the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission.

The report, led by University of California, Riverside scientist Kaveh Madani, shows that the state would receive less precipitation due to the changing climate, with most of it as rain instead of snow. This would impact hydropower supply and operations.

On average, Mr. Madani says California could lose up to 20 percent of its hydropower generation under dry climate change, which can result in 8 percent to 18 percent reduction in hydropower revenues for producers.

"If California loses snowpack under climate warming, high-elevation reservoirs might not be able to store enough water for hydropower generation in summer months when the demand is much higher and hydropower is priced higher," said Mr. Madani. "California might, therefore, lose hydropower in warmer months and hydropower operators may lose considerable revenues."

Hydropower, a cheap and relatively clean energy source, comprises 15 percent of California's electricity on average with 75 percent of the hydropower coming from high-elevation units, located above 1,000 feet.

More than 150 high-elevation units are in the state, with most of them located in Northern California and the Sierra Mountains. Most of the high-elevation reservoirs are small in terms of their storage capacity, though, as they are built for hydroelectricity production and no other benefits, such as water supply and flood control.

"The big problem is that hydropower will be less available when it is most needed and expensive: in the summer months," he said. "A warmer California needs more electricity for cooling in summer months and less electricity for warming in winter months. This means that hydropower pricing patterns will be affected by climate change.”

He adds that in order to find out what strategies are available to adapt to the new conditions and minimize climate change impact, it is important to analyze climate change effects on hydropower early on.

"Our results do not yet suggest that we need to build more dams in California for hydropower generation," Mr. Madani continued. “But they suggest that hydropower, a highly valuable energy source, may be less available. So we have to look for clean replacements and we have to reduce our energy demands as much as we can.” - EcoSeed Staff

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