The vulnerability of the European electricity sector to changes in water resources is set to worsen by 2030 as a consequence of climate change. This conclusion is reached by researchers at Leiden University in an article published in Nature Energy this month.
Thermoelectric power stations -- including coal, gas, and nuclear plants -- use significant amounts of fresh water for cooling purposes. A large gas power station can use an Olympic-sized swimming pool of water per minute. If water is not available, or if it is too warm, power stations have to reduce electricity production, or cease production completely.
In recent years, Europe has faced increasingly intense heatwaves and periods of drought, which has put pressure on electricity systems. If one power station ceases production, this can be compensated by increasing production from less vulnerable power station, or by energy produced from renewable sources. But in extended periods of drought this compensation mechanism is not enough, resulting in power disruptions and blackouts.
Led by Dr. Paul Behrens, a team of Leiden University researchers analysed over 1,300 power stations, drawing water from 818 different water catchments. Their research showed that the number of regions with a vulnerable electricity network due to water availability will increase significantly by 2030.
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