World news – The researchers propose a framework for assessing the effects of climate change on California’s water and energy systems


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January 7, 2021

by Harrison Tasoff, University of California-Santa Barbara

As the planet continues to warm, the dual challenges of reducing water supplies and increasing energy demands will intensify. However, water and energy are inextricably linked. For example, nearly a fifth of California’s energy goes into water-related activities, while more than a tenth of the state’s electricity comes from hydropower. When society tries to adapt to one challenge, it needs to make sure that the other does not worsen.

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To this end, researchers from UC Santa Barbara, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Berkeley have developed a framework to assess how different climate adaptations can affect this water-energy relationship. Her research appears in the open access journal Environmental Research Letters.

« Electricity and water systems are linked in many different ways, » said co-author Ranjit Deshmukh, assistant professor in the environmental studies department. « Climate change is expected to highlight these relationships. Therefore, we have presented a framework that depicts these interdependencies and enables us to understand and quantify its effects on the energy-water relationship. »

Although it is not the first study to deal with these topics, it takes a more differentiated approach than the previous work. « There has been a lot of analysis of how climate change could affect the water and energy sectors separately, but these studies typically did not look at the interactions and feedback loops between the two, » said lead author Julia Szinai, of Berkeley’s Climate and Ecosystem Science Division Lab. “Our paper develops a general framework that identifies how climate change is affecting these coupled water and electricity systems and how potential adjustments can be made to future supply and demand gaps. In this way, we illustrate often overlooked tradeoffs and synergies in adaptation to climate change. « 

The framework uses systems analysis to identify the greatest potential climate stressors in the water and energy sectors. It quantifies actions needed to adapt to climate change and examines the feedback that would result from those actions.

« For example, our framework shows how elevated temperatures due to climate change are likely to increase the electricity demand for air conditioning and the Water needs for irrigation will increase, « Deshmukh explained. « While the loss of snow cover in the sierras and variable rainfall affect the water supply not only for urban and agricultural use, but also for the generation of hydropower and the cooling of thermal power plants. »

California is on the snow cover in the Sierra Nevadas instructed to slowly drain water later in the year.

The team applied the framework they developed to California, which relies on snow cover for much of its water and uses significant amounts of energy to get water from the north to the south of the state. They examined several adaptation strategies in the water sector and found that some are energy-intensive, while others can actually save both water and energy.

The researchers integrated data into a series of fragmented studies to explore the full range of possible water and energy futures for the Estimate the state under different climate scenarios at the end of the century. Their analysis found that two factors are likely to dominate the direct impact of climate change on California’s electricity sector: higher air conditioning loads and lower hydropower availability.

« One of the key points of the paper is that our water system is adapting to climate change either can significantly exacerbate the load on the electricity grid or, on the other hand, help alleviate it, « said Berkeley Lab co-author and climate researcher Andrew Jones. « If we focus on adjusting the water system, using large water transfers through the basins or energy-intensive desalination, it will only make the electricity problem much more difficult. If, on the other hand, we adjust the water system. » Saving water is a win-win as you also reduce the amount of energy used for water. « 

Currently, a whopping 19% of California’s electricity consumption is for water-related applications such as treatment, transportation, pumping, and heating. In addition, around 15% of state electricity is generated from hydropower.

The state has already had some impacts of climate change on its water-energy systems. Droughts exacerbated by climate change have led to an increase in electricity consumption for groundwater pumps, and corresponding hydropower deficits have had to be replaced with dirtier fossil fuels.

The team is certain that the climate crisis has a huge impact on the future water supply of the state. The effect is extremely uncertain. In the worst case, the available water supply could decrease by 25%. However, it could increase by 46%.

« There are considerable uncertainties in the climate model projections for precipitation « Deshmukh said. » Regardless of these uncertainties, the Adaptation M took significant benefits. « Saving water would save both energy and money for consumers, and allow greater flow in the state’s natural streams and rivers.

When the team applied its framework to the worst-case scenario , found that choosing the most energy-intensive adaptation strategies in the water sector can lead to an energy imbalance as large as that directly caused by climate change.

« I think this is the first study to show that water sector adaptation can have as big an impact on the electricity sector as the direct effects of climate change itself, « said Jones.

 » This study has highlighted the benefits of coordinated adaptation planning between the two sectors, « added lead author Szinai add infrastructure in the western US if the effects of climate change are included in the water sector. « 

Deshmukh is currently leading a team studying the links between energy, water and climate by quantifying the effects of climate change on hydropower and thermal power plants in 12 countries in southern Africa. He hopes to identify optimal investments in electricity infrastructure .

« California has choices about how to adapt its water sector to the effects of climate change, » said Deshmukh. « The state can either adopt energy-intensive climate adaptation measures such as desalination, or develop a portfolio of measures that maximize water conservation potential . Planners and policymakers in the water and energy sectors need to coordinate their actions and plans to adapt to climate change.  »

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