Research into climate change has shown that more frequent droughts and heatwaves could reduce the ability of electricity plants to generate power by the middle of the century. But for Australia in particular, switching from coal-fired power plants to higher efficiency gas fired plants could help to mitigate the changes, researchers say.
According to the report, changes in water resources and increasing water temperatures will reduce the energy generating capability for a large proportion of hydro and thermoelectric power plants (including nuclear and fossil-fuel) across the globe.
The research suggests that planners need to seriously consider adaptation options if they are to avoid the impacts of water constraints exacerbated by climate change.
Hydro- and thermoelectric (nuclear, fossil-fuelled, biomass-fuelled and geothermal) power currently provides a combined 98 per cent of the world’s electricity supply.
These technologies depend on water availability, with global water consumption for power generation is expected to double within the next 40 years, as economies develop and the population grows.
Researcher Keywan Riahi and colleagues modelled the impact of various climate-induced changes in water resources on 24,515 hydropower plants and 1,427 thermoelectric power plants across the globe.
They found that reductions in streamflow and increased water temperatures could reduce the electricity generating capacity of up to 86 per cent of thermoelectric power plants and up to 74 per cent of hydropower plants in the dataset.
Results also showed that global annual hydropower capacities are expected to fall by up to 3.6 per cent in the 2050s and 6.1 per cent in the 2080s, as a consequence of reduced streamflow.
They also project that the monthly power capacity of the majority of thermoelectric power plants will drop by up to 30 per cent in the 2050s.
However, the authors suggest that increasing the efficiency of hydropower plants by 10 per cent could be enough to offset the annual reductions in capacity. Changing cooling systems and switching from coal to gas could also offset much of the capacity reduction in thermoelectric power plants under a low-emissions scenario.