Climate change impacts on high elevation hydropower generation in California's Sierra Nevada: A case study in the Upper American River

S. Vicuna, R. Leonardson, M. W. Hanemann, L. L. Dale, J. A. Dracup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

86 Scopus citations

Abstract

Climate change is likely to affect the generation of energy from California's high-elevation hydropower systems. To investigate these impacts, this study formulates a linear programming model of an 11-reservoir hydroelectric system operated by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District in the Upper American River basin. Four sets of hydrologic scenarios are developed using the Variable Infiltration Capacity model combined with climatic output from two general circulation models under two greenhouse-gas emissions scenarios. Power generation and revenues fall under two of the four climate change scenarios, as a consequence of drier hydrologic conditions. Energy generation is primarily limited by annual volume of streamflow, and is affected more than revenues, reflecting the ability of the system to store water when energy prices are low for use when prices are high (July through September). Power generation and revenues increase for two of the scenarios, which predict wetter hydrologic conditions. In this case, power generation increases more than revenues indicating that the system is using most of its available capacity under current hydrologic conditions. Hydroelectric systems located in basins with hydrograph centroids occuring close to summer months (July through September) are likely to be affected by the changes in hydrologic timing associated with climate change (e.g., earlier snowmelts and streamflows) if the systems lack sufficient storage capacity. High Sierra hydroelectric systems with sufficiently large storage capacity should not be affected by climate-induced changes in hydrologic timing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S123-S137
JournalClimatic Change
Volume87
Issue number1 SUPPL
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 26 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science

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