Power Plant Production Drops as Waters Warm and River Flows Decline

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Rising water temperatures and a reduction in river flows have caused declining production at some thermoelectric power plants in the U.S. and Europe, a trend that will likely continue for decades to come as the planet warms, according to a new study.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers estimate that the generating capacity at U.S. nuclear and coal-fired plants — which rely on consistent volumes of water flow at particular temperatures to cool overheated turbines — will fall 4 to 16 percent from 2031 to 2060 as a consequence of climate change.

In Europe, scientists predict, production will drop 6 to 19 percent due to a lack of cooling water. According to the study, “extreme” drops in power generation caused by near or total plant shutdowns will triple during that time period.

In the U.S., thermoelectric plants account for more than 90 percent of electricity generation. “This study suggests that our reliance on thermal cooling is something that we’re going to have to revisit,” said Dennis Lettenmaier, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington and co-author of the study.

Article appearing courtesy Yale Environment 360.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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