PublicationJournal Article Evaluating cross-​​sectoral impacts of climate change and adaptations on the energy-​​water nexus: a framework and California case study

May 1, 2021
Publication Type:
Journal Article

Elec­tric­ity and water sys­tems are inex­tri­ca­bly linked through water demands for energy gen­er­a­tion, and through energy demands for using, mov­ing, and treat­ing water and waste­water. Cli­mate change may stress these inter­de­pen­den­cies, together referred to as the energy-​​water nexus, by reduc­ing water avail­abil­ity for hydropower gen­er­a­tion and by increas­ing irri­ga­tion and elec­tric­ity demand for ground­wa­ter pump­ing, among other feed­backs. Fur­ther, many cli­mate adap­ta­tion mea­sures to aug­ment water supplies—such as water recy­cling and desalination—are energy-​​intensive. How­ever, water and elec­tric­ity sys­tem cli­mate vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and adap­ta­tions are often stud­ied in iso­la­tion, with­out con­sid­er­ing how mul­ti­ple inter­ac­tive risks may com­pound. This paper reviews the frag­mented lit­er­a­ture and devel­ops a gen­er­al­ized frame­work for under­stand­ing these impli­ca­tions of cli­mate change on the energy-​​water nexus. We apply this frame­work in a case study to quan­tify end-​​century direct cli­mate impacts on California’s water and elec­tric­ity resources and esti­mate the mag­ni­tude of the indi­rect cross-​​sectoral feed­back of elec­tric­ity demand from var­i­ous water adap­ta­tion strate­gies. Our results show that increased space cool­ing demand and decreased hydropower gen­er­a­tion are the most sig­nif­i­cant direct cli­mate change impacts on California’s elec­tric­ity sec­tor by end-​​century. In California’s water sec­tor, cli­mate change impacts directly on sur­face water avail­abil­ity exceed demand changes, but have con­sid­er­able uncer­tainty, both in direc­tion and mag­ni­tude. Addi­tion­ally, we find that the energy demands of water sec­tor cli­mate adap­ta­tions could sig­nif­i­cantly affect California’s future elec­tric­ity sys­tem needs. If the worst-​​case water short­age occurs under cli­mate change, water-​​conserving adap­ta­tion mea­sures can pro­vide large energy sav­ings co-​​benefits, but other energy-​​intensive water adap­ta­tions may dou­ble the direct impacts of cli­mate change on the state’s elec­tric­ity resource require­ment. These results high­light the value of coor­di­nated adap­ta­tion plan­ning between the energy and water sec­tors to achieve mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial solu­tions for cli­mate resilience.


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