Modeling Climate-Water Impacts on Electricity Sector Capacity Expansion: Preprint

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Climate change has the potential to exacerbate water availability concerns for thermal power plant cooling, which is responsible for 41% of U.S. water withdrawals. This analysis describes an initial link between climate, water, and electricity systems using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) electricity system capacity expansion model. Average surface water projections from Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 3 (CMIP3) data are applied to surface water rights available to new generating capacity in ReEDS, and electric sector growth is compared with and without climate-influenced water rights. The mean climate projection has only a small impact on national or regional capacity growth and water use because most regions have sufficient unappropriated or previously retired water rights to offset climate impacts. Climate impacts are notable in southwestern states that purchase fewer water rights and obtain a greater share from wastewater and other higher-cost water resources. The electric sector climate impacts demonstrated herein establish a methodology to be later exercised with more extreme climate scenarios and a more rigorous representation of legal and physical water availability.

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