(St. Louis) After water levels at the California Dam dropped to historically low levels this summer, the main hydroelectric plant that powers it was shut down.
At Hoover Dam in Nevada, one of the largest hydroelectric generators in the country, production fell 25%. Federal officials say a dam in Arizona could cut off power generation in the coming years if a severe drought continues.
A severe drought in the American West this year has drained reservoirs, reducing hydropower generation and further damaging the region’s power grids. And as extreme weather conditions become more common, grid operators are adjusting to fluctuations in hydropower generation.
Lindsey Buckley, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission, said: “Finding the right resource or the right combination of resources is a challenge that provides the same power and energy as hydropower.”
According to a recent federal forecast, U.S. hydropower generation is expected to decline by 14% this year from 2020. Estimated declines are concentrated in the western states, which rely heavily on hydropower. California production drops by almost half.
Cutbacks complicate grid operations because hydropower is a relatively simple renewable energy source that can be easily scaled up or down, experts say, as solar power and solar power generation decline.
Power grids in other surrounding areas also provide some relief. While California faces dry weather for many years, the Pacific Northwest usually receives enough precipitation to recover in the winter and generate hydropower for export.
This year, however, the northwest experienced extreme heat and low precipitation, recalled Crystal Raymond, a climate change researcher at the University of Washington. M.To me Raymond argues that long-term climate change could further reduce the melting of snow in the mountains that fill reservoirs in the spring.
In August, California authorities shut down the Erode Hyatt hydroelectric plant for the first time in 60 years, with Oroville water levels hitting historic lows.
At Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border, federal officials recently said there is a 34% chance that the Glen Canyon Dam will not be able to generate electricity at some point in 2023, from 3% next year, if the drought continues.
The decline in hydropower generation in California was on par with the heat waves, forcing the state to purchase additional electricity. To prevent blackouts in late September, state officials said they were setting up temporary emergency generators.
In some northwestern states, hydropower generation has returned to near-normal levels this year after falling to a lower level than 10 years ago. Federal estimates are that most of the West will experience drought conditions by the end of this year.
A decline in hydropower generation means an increase in the production of other energy sources that emit greenhouse gases that are fundamental to climate change.
According to federal estimates, natural gas consumption is expected to increase by 7% in California and 6% in the Northwest this year. Coal production in the northwest is expected to increase by 12%.