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Drought and electricity | Nature Climate Change



Minghao Qiu of Stanford University, USA, and colleagues examined the impact of extreme droughts on the fossil fuel power plants in the western United States, an interconnected electricity system that is heavily hydropower-dependent. Using detailed empirical data, they estimate that extreme drought could increase the electricity production of individual fossil fuel plants by 65%, often in distant regions. Increased emissions from these plants account for about 12% of the total regional CO2 emissions during extreme droughts, and also lead to increased local surface PM2.5 concentrations (particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 μm or less). The authors find that the monetized costs from these excess greenhouse gases and air pollutant emissions are 1.2 to 2.5 times more than the direct economic costs of the energy generation. Such impacts will remain a challenge given the increased likelihood of extreme drought under a warming climate.

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