Increasing Water Stress Due To Climate Change Threatens European Electricity Production

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Increasing water stress caused by a global climate change will have far-ranging consequences, and according to a new study, water scarcity and warmth could begin impacting European electricity generation as soon as 2030, possibly decreasing production or ceasing production altogether.

Coal power plant with direct cooling | Image Credit: iStockphoto ©Michael Utech

The new study, published in the journal Nature and authored by researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands, concludes that the vulnerability of the European electricity sector — specifically its more traditional generation sources such as coal, gas, and nuclear — is likely to worsen by 2030 as a direct consequence of climate change.

Specifically, because thermoelectric power stations use such large amounts of fresh water for cooling purposes — sometimes a large gas station might use an Olympic-sized swimming pool-worth of water per minute — if that water is not there, or if it is too warm, the power station must either reduce electricity production, or cease production altogether.

The report, Climate change and the vulnerability of electricity generation to water stress in the European Union, pointed to recent heatwaves across Europe which have led to periods of curtailment in electricity generation, highlighting concerns about the future security of the region’s security of supply. The authors of the report assess EU-wide climate impacts for 1,326 individual thermoelectric power plants, and 818 water basins in 2020 and 2030, and find that despite policy goals and a decrease in electricity-related water withdrawal — presumably due to the overall decline in reliance upon traditional thermoelectric power generation — the number of regions experiencing some reduction in power availability due to water stress will rise from 47 basins to 54 basins between 2014 and 2030.

Further, there are numerous new thermoelectric power stations being planned for construction in at-risk water basins, and that there are numerous places at risk of future pressure, mainly in the Mediterranean region, such as Italy, Spain, Southern France, and Greece. There are also areas along the Rhine in Germany, as well as Bulgaria and Poland, which are likely to see increased water stress put pressure on electricity production.

“There are ways to deal with these shortages,” said Dr. Paul Behrens, who led a team of Leiden University researchers. “Our research shows that cooling with seawater can significantly decrease problems on the Mediterranean coast. But it will cost more as investments are needed to equip plants for the use of saline water.”

The conclusions moving forward are obvious — to reduce the use of cooling water throughout the European Union, the EU must transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and phase out the old, thermoelectric power stations, which according to Behrens, “will help reduce the reliance of the electricity supply on water, and will also help us achieve our climate goals.”

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

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