• Drought, rising temperatures may cut capacities by 30%
  • Efficiency upgrades, switching fuel may offset some losses

More than two-thirds of the world’s power plants may have trouble running at full capacity as the warming climate affects water supplies, according to a new study.

Reduced streamflows and rising water temperatures may reduce monthly generating capacity at nuclear, fossil-fuel and biofuel-powered plants by as much as 30 percent by the 2050s, according to research published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Global hydropower capacity is expected to drop by as much as 3.6 percent in the 2050s and almost double that amount by the 2080s.

“The world’s electricity sector strongly depends on the availability and temperature of water resources,” wrote the team of scientists led by Michelle T. H. van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “Global warming, with increased climate variability and likelihoods of heat waves and droughts, may have important impacts.”

The review of about 26,000 power plants found capacities may be reduced at at least 61 percent of hydroelectric plants and 81 percent of those that use nuclear, coal, geothermal and other fuels, the study found, based on current temperature trends.

That will vary by region, depending on the changing climate around the globe. Increasing streamflows over the century may increase capacity at power plants in parts of Canada, northern Europe, Russia and India, the researchers found. Still, the worldwide trend is negative.

Greater efficiency and changes to operations may help electric generators avoid the worst impacts, the authors said. A 10 percent increase in hydropower efficiency may be enough to offset annual reductions in capacity while other power plants may adapt by changing cooling systems and switching from coal to gas, according to the report.

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