Climate change is driving variations in the global water cycle leading to changes in streamflow, snowmelt, precipitation, and groundwater storage that can affect how much electricity hydropower facilities can generate. Due to these shifts in weather and long-term climate patterns, it is becoming increasingly important to examine hydrologic variations to ensure stable and reliable hydropower generation. To do so, the Hydropower Program is incorporating scientific advancements in empirical measurements and analyses with modeling and simulation to understand the changing water cycle’s impacts on hydroelectric generation.

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The U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) is working to understand the consequences of climate change on hydropower's unique role in the clean energy future. Watch this video to see how climate-related conditions are affecting the future of hydroelectric generation and how WPTO research and development aims to mitigate them.
Video by the U.S. Department of Energy

Through the Hydropower Program’s Hydrologic System Science portfolio, WPTO seeks to understand the changing climate’s impact on hydropower, as well as hydropower’s potential impacts on the climate. WPTO aims to address fundamental questions of hydrologic variation, impacts on ecosystems, and risks for operations and engineering of hydropower systems through the following research priorities:

  • Weather and Climate Impacts to Hydropower
    • Assess data and modeling needs to clarify risks and uncertainties related to climate change.
    • Enhance existing models and invest in emerging modeling approaches to increase the understanding of hydrologic system science and its potential applications for supporting short-term hydropower operations and long-term planning.
    • Develop new tools to quantify climate-related risks from asset- to basin-scales.
    • Provide open access data and tools for the entire U.S. hydropower fleet to enhance climate impact assessments.
  • Methane Emissions from Hydropower Reservoirs
    • Characterize the state of the science on carbon transport, methane formation and emissions, and their associated uncertainties from reservoirs and other water bodies.
    • Test and validate existing measurement capabilities and quantify the uncertainty of existing measurement capabilities across a variety of reservoir and waterbody types.
    • Develop new data collection and modeling capabilities to understand methane emissions from reservoirs across multiple spatial and temporal scales.
    • Summarize findings on methane emissions and uncertainty into widely applicable reservoir classification schemes.

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