New software tool to model the economic and environmental impacts of drought in California | NSF

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New software tool to model the economic and environmental impacts of drought in California

Drought may result in higher electricity costs linked to loss of hydropower supply

Shasta Lake is part of the Central Valley Project, an electricity and water management project.

July 7, 2020

Drought can mean restrictions on watering lawns, crop losses for farmers and an increased risk of forest fires. But it can also affect the power companies in the portfolio.

In communities that depend on water for power generation, a drought can result in higher electricity costs linked to the loss of hydropower supply.

In a recent study published in Environmental research letters, a National Science Foundation-funded team led by a researcher from North Carolina State University analyzed the effects of a drought in California. The drought occurred from 2012 to 2016 and was one of the worst in the state’s history.

Scientists found that the drought caused a significant increase in electricity costs for three major state utilities.

Researchers have developed a new software tool to model the economic and environmental impacts of drought. California depends on hydropower to provide a significant portion of its electricity.

On average, the state uses hydropower to cover 13% of its energy needs. During the drought, levels of precipitation, sleet and stream flow were lower.

As a result, hydropower represented only 6% of the state’s electricity needs during the worst period of the drought. At the same time, the increase in temperatures has resulted in a greater demand for energy for cooling.

The researchers found that the drought had a moderate impact on the market price of electricity. But this was actually another weather event that had a bigger impact on costs. An extreme cold spell in 2014 known as the “polar vortex” in the eastern United States caused natural gas prices to rise across the country.


NSF Public affairs,
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