How Water Scarcity From Climate Change Could Jack Up Europe’s Power Prices

Water evaporating from nuclear plant's cooling towers. (Credit: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Many European countries could see a decrease in electricity generating capacity and an increase in electricity prices thanks to climate change. That’s the overall finding from a new study out of the Austria-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, which looked at how higher water temperatures and reduced river flows could affect hydropower plants, as well as the nuclear and fossil fuel power plants that draw off much of that water for cooling.

As of now, 91 percent of Europe’s electricity is produced from those three sources, and nuclear and fossil fuel plants are the continents single biggest consumer of water — accounting for 43 percent of all surface water withdrawal. Given that reliance, it’s an open question how well the power industry can continue to function in climate changes’ new realities.

The researchers focused on 29 European countries, developing a model of river flow and water temperatures using observed data from 1971 to 2000. They then plugged in the projected climate changes produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That gave them projections for European river flows and water temperatures for 2031 to 2060. Using other projections of future capacity, cost, and demand from the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity, they then looked at how those changes would affect energy production from hydropower plants, nuclear plants, and fossil fuel plants.

The conclusion is that over half of the countries studied will see some amount of price increase, with the big hits in the summer, and mainly for central and southern Europe. Slovenia saw an 12 to 15 percent increase in the model; Bulgaria a 21 to 23 percent increase; and Romania a 31 to 32 percent increase. Countries like Ireland, Denmark, and the U.K. will escaped unscathed, and Norway and Sweden actually saw a price drop. But for the most part, a hike in costs would be the order of the day:

The numbers on each country in the map above show the change in mean wholesale prices, while the breakdowns for select countries show changes in prices, electricity production, and supplier surplus. The A2 scenario is the medium-high emissions path projected by the IPCC, and B1 is the low emissions path. (Credit: Michelle van Vliet, et al)

To explain, climate change threatens to reduce river flows, aquifers, and other sources of fresh water thanks to melting glaciers and less reliable rainfall. As a result, the study found a decrease in river flow of 13 to 15 percent for Southern Europe in the 2031-2060 time period (relative to 1971-2000) while places like Spain, Italy and Greece dropped as much as 20 percent. That was offset by an increase of 3 to 5 percent in river flow for Northern Europe. Water temperature increases, again thanks to global warming, were much more evenly distributed, usually around 0.6 to 0.8 degrees Celsius — though some central European areas got over one degree Celsius.

Breaking down the effects on power generation, northern countries — Norway, Sweden, etc. — saw an overall increase of 8 percent for hydropower capacities, while southern countries — Greece, France, Spain, Bulgaria, Serbia, etc. — saw an overall decrease of 15 percent. For the continent as a whole, it’s a decrease of 4 to 5 percent. For nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, around half of Europe looks like it’ll escape essentially unscathed, especially the north. But reductions ranged from 5 percent all the way to 21 percent in other areas, with the the biggest reductions in some southern European countries. The hits were, again, substantially worse in the summer. But the study also determined that adapting with better cooling technology and more advanced fuels could take a lot of the edge off.

Widening the view to the global level, a study released in January by The International Energy Agency concluded that annual water consumption for energy production will likely double by 2035 — from 66 billion cubic meters now to 135 billion. And along with climate change, population growth will also be straining water supplies: the United Nations projects that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in regions with severe water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions. So there will be less available fresh water for human consumption, plus strained and costlier energy supplies. Europe is just one corner of the global challenge.

HT: Bloomberg

11 Responses to How Water Scarcity From Climate Change Could Jack Up Europe’s Power Prices

  1. The last time we had a drought in CA, I suggested that all the restaurants serve Coors instead of water. After all, that imported water from Colorado.

    Bad idea in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that Colorado is also drought prone and the shipment would push a lot of ghg’s into the air.

    I just wonder what other lame brain ideas we will really try to do, Pipeline water from Minnesota to Texas to aid in the refining of Canadian crude?

  2. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    And the desalination plants do not work very well without electricity.

  3. Merrelyn Emery says:

    You mean like the totally lame brain idea of catching the rain and using it sparingly, only for essential purposes? ME

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I hope all those nukes have automatic sensors and off switches for water temperature and availability, ME

  5. “Europe is just one corner of the global challenge.”

    That’s for sure. Take a gander at the online U.S. Drought Monitor. Most of the Western states, including California, are smothered by “sever” to “extreme” to “exceptional” drought. Because the drought is driven by global warming, there is no reason to think it will let up for, say, the next 1,000 years or so.

    Pretty soon, energy and food production will be fighting for the same scarce to non-existent resource. Scary.

  6. Yes, and mulching your vegetable garden and edible landscape and using gray water while you’re at it.

  7. Merrelyn Emery says:

    They already are here Philip. After about 3 rounds so far, food is slightly ahead on points but there are many rounds to go, ME

  8. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Water is the elixir of life – Leonardo da vinci.

    In the coming decade water and energy play a very crucial role at a global level. Not only coal power plants even Solar PV major plants need water to clean the panels from dust. Already DESERTEC in the Sahara has faced this problem. This calls for choosing Solar PV Projects in areas other than deserts when the sites are available. After all Sun shines for most of the time in Sunbelt regions. Why only select desert regions?
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  9. Colorado Bob says:

    After the DOE report this week, and this one, I checked on Lake Mead.
    The power pool at Lake Mead is 1,055 feet. At 1,054 feet the turbines stop spinning.

    The current lake level is 1,105 feet.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    How about a pipeline from Sichuan to California?

  11. fj says:

    More proof that we must divest from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible; as a major drain on our economy and environment.