Science & Nature

Hydropower decline provides pressure to energy grids in drought

ST. LOUIS (AP) — After water ranges at a California dam fell to historic lows this summer season, the principle hydropower plant it feeds was shut down. At the Hoover Dam in Nevada — one of many nation’s greatest hydropower mills — manufacturing is down by 25%. If excessive drought persists, federal officers say a dam in Arizona might cease producing electrical energy in coming years.

Severe drought throughout the West drained reservoirs this yr, slashing hydropower manufacturing and additional stressing the area’s energy grids. And as excessive climate turns into extra frequent with local weather change, grid operators are adapting to swings in hydropower technology.

“The problem is discovering the precise useful resource, or mixture of assets, that may present the identical vitality and energy outputs as hydro,” mentioned Lindsay Buckley, a spokesperson for the California Energy Commission.

U.S. hydropower technology is predicted to say no 14% this yr in contrast with 2020, in accordance with a current federal forecast. The projected drops are concentrated in Western states that rely extra closely on hydropower, with California’s manufacturing anticipated to fall by practically half.

The reductions complicate grid operations since hydropower is a comparatively versatile renewable vitality supply that may be simply turned up or down, specialists say, resembling within the evenings when the solar goes down and photo voltaic vitality technology drops.

“Hydro is an enormous a part of the plan for making the entire system work collectively,” mentioned Severin Borenstein, a renewable vitality professional on the University of California, Berkeley and board member of the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s electrical grid.

Borenstein famous that hydropower is necessary because the state works to construct out its electrical energy storage choices, together with by putting in batteries that may dispatch vitality when it’s wanted.

Ben Kujala of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which handles energy planning for the Columbia River basin, additionally famous that grid operators have tailored how they deploy hydropower lately to make sure that it enhances photo voltaic and wind vitality.

Power grids linking Western areas additionally provide some reduction. While California can face multi-year stretches of dry climate, the Pacific Northwest often will get sufficient precipitation within the winter to get better and produce hydropower to export.

But this yr, the Northwest was additionally hit by excessive warmth and fewer precipitation, in accordance with Crystal Raymond, a local weather change researcher on the University of Washington. While vitality planners account for drought years, Raymond mentioned local weather change over the long run could additional cut back the quantities of melting snow in mountains that fill reservoirs within the spring.

In August, California officers shut down the Edward Hyatt hydropower plant for the primary time in its 60-year historical past after water ranges at Lake Oroville sank to historic lows. The plant can produce sufficient energy for as much as 750,000 properties, however sometimes operates at decrease ranges.

At Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border, federal officers not too long ago mentioned there’s a 34% probability that the Glen Canyon Dam received’t be capable to produce energy sooner or later in 2023, up from a 3% probability for subsequent yr, if excessive drought persists.

Declines in hydropower manufacturing in California this summer season coincided with warmth waves, forcing the state to purchase additional energy. To forestall outages in late September, state officers mentioned they had been deploying momentary emergency mills.

“The drought did compound the problem of assembly demand,” mentioned Jordan Kern, an vitality and water methods professional at North Carolina State University.

In some Northwestern states, hydropower manufacturing has reverted nearer to regular ranges after dipping just under their 10-year ranges earlier this yr. California’s hydropower ranges remained on the backside of the state’s 10-year vary by means of June. Federal forecasts says a lot of the West is more likely to proceed to see drought circumstances by means of the top of the yr.

Declines in hydropower manufacturing imply manufacturing bumps for different vitality sources. Natural fuel energy is predicted to rise 7% in California and 6% within the Northwest this yr over final, in accordance with federal forecasts. Coal technology is forecast to rise 12% within the Northwest.

The California Air Resources Board says the state has been in a position to proceed lowering the electrical energy sector’s greenhouse fuel emissions regardless of swings in hydropower technology lately.


The Associated Press receives assist from the Walton Family Foundation for protection of water and environmental coverage. The AP is solely accountable for all content material. For all of AP’s environmental protection, go to

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