Droughts boost emissions as hydropower dries up

Posted: December 21, 2018 by oldbrew in Emissions, Energy, Natural Variation, research, weather
Tags: , ,

Hoover Dam

Another headache for the ‘carbon-free’ crowd. When there’s less water in the dams, they have to crank up the power stations. Is a study needed to find this out?

When hydropower runs low in a drought, western states tend to ramp up power generation—and emissions—from fossil fuels, says Phys.org.

According to a new study from Stanford University, droughts caused about 10 percent of the average annual carbon dioxide emissions from power generation in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington between 2001 and 2015.

“Water is used in electricity generation, both directly for hydropower and indirectly for cooling in thermoelectric power plants,” said climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, the Kara J. Foundation professor in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) and senior author of the study.

“We find that in a number of western states where hydropower plays a key role in the clean energy portfolio, droughts cause an increase in emissions as natural gas or coal-fired power plants are brought online to pick up the slack when water for hydropower comes up short.”

The study, published Dec. 21 in Environmental Research Letters, shows emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides—air pollutants that can irritate lungs and contribute to acid rain and smog—also increased in some states as a result of droughts.

Some of the largest increases in sulfur dioxide took place in Colorado, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The largest increases in nitrogen oxides occurred in California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Challenges to going carbon-free

In total, the researchers found drought-induced shifts in energy sources led to an additional 100 million tons of carbon dioxide across 11 western states between 2001 and 2015. That’s like adding 1.4 million vehicles per year to the region’s roadways.

The power sector in California, which has a mandate to go carbon-free by 2045, contributed around 51 million tons to the total. Washington, where the legislature is expected in January 2019 to consider a proposal to eliminate fossil fuels from electricity generation by 2045, contributed nearly 22 million tons.

“For California, Oregon and Washington, which generate a lot of hydropower, the drought-induced increases in carbon dioxide emissions represent substantial fractions of their Clean Power Plan targets,” said postdoctoral researcher Julio Herrera-Estrada, lead author of the study.

Continued here.

  1. Graeme No.3 says:

    What they need is a policy that “green electricity” gets a Certificate. They use the hydroelectricity and get lots of Certificates which they can use to ‘offset’ emissions when they have to use conventional generation. Problem solved.
    Alternately they should adopt a Green solution. Turn their forests into wood pellets and burn those. Their emissions will go up but they don’t have to count them as they’re ‘green’. It costs more as well but the customers can get a free Purple Elephant stamp on their hand if they want one.

  2. Gamecock says:

    ‘Washington, where the legislature is expected in January 2019 to consider a proposal to eliminate fossil fuels from electricity generation by 2045’

    The Washington legislature has no authority over 2045. Not even 2020.

    Considering the topic, the picture of Hoover Dam should be from the other side. The water level in Lake Mead is down a HUNDRED FEET!


  3. hunter says:

    So the Washington state legislature, in line with the Oligarchy calling the shots, is going to ignore the referendum of this past November and still impose a ruinous expensive phony “green” policy on the people of Washington.

  4. hunter says:

    How much water is wasted balancing the ridiculous wind power industry’s low quality, high cost fluctuating electrical output?

  5. spetzer86 says:

    Don’t forget that dams generate CO2 just through their very existence. Harder to be green than to claim to be green: https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2013/acs-presspac-july-31-2013/sediment-trapped-behind-dams-makes-them-hot-spots-for-greenhouse.html

  6. oldbrew says:

    Obsessing about the trace gas CO2 must be the main cause of bad electricity generation policies.

  7. Russ Wood says:

    A drought (as in South Africa in 2017) can also cause problems with pumped storage schemes. If you ain’t got no water in the lower dam, you can’t pump it up!