Hydro Power and Climate Change – Adapting to a Changing World

Hydro Power and Climate Change Adapting to a Changing World

Hydropower is an environmentally responsible, clean source of energy that prevents greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, it provides drinking water and flood protection.

Climate change is creating a warmer world, leading to changes in precipitation, evapotranspiration, soil moisture levels, melting glacier ice and river flow variability. These modifications will have an impact on both global hydrological cycles and hydropower generation systems.

Climate Change

Climate change is an enduring pattern that impacts our planet and its people. It’s caused by an accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

These gases absorb energy from the sun and prevent it from escaping into space, leading to more extreme weather conditions and modifications to how water moves across Earth’s surface.

Climate change is already having an impact on many parts of the globe: glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking, river and lake ice is breaking up earlier, plant and animal geographic ranges are shifting, and more intense heat waves are occurring.

Without significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature increases could reach 5degC or more by the end of this century. This would lead to increasingly severe weather events and the potential loss of life and property in many places.


Droughts occur when precipitation levels fall significantly below their average for an extended period. They can have severe consequences on the environment, agriculture and water supply.

Climate change is well known to exacerbate droughts, with some estimates showing a more than doubled frequency and severity since 1900.

Unfortunately, people living in affected regions are often forced to reduce their work or cease operations altogether. This can have severe economic repercussions such as reduced food production and high costs associated with food imports.

Hydro power is an integral component of the global energy grid, but droughts can impede its production. Dry weather causes less rain and snow to fall into reservoirs, making it harder for turbines to release that water and generate electricity from it.

Droughts rarely affect hydroelectric power across all regions of the Western United States at once, meaning that regions unaffected by drought may be able to supply extra electricity if needed elsewhere in America. A recent study quantified this effect and discovered that droughts increased carbon dioxide emissions from western states’ power sectors by forcing utilities to switch from burning hydroelectric fuel when their supply ran out.

Water Supply

Water plays an integral role in the energy chain, from primary fuel production (coal, oil and natural gas) to electricity generation via hydro and cooling systems. Hydropower in particular is especially vulnerable to changes in water availability and climate-related shifts in energy demand.

In the United States, for instance, dams serve a variety of flow regulation functions from flood protection to agricultural use. Furthermore, they help maintain water supplies and safeguard wetlands, fisheries and endangered species habitat.

But the hydropower-irrigation relationship is highly vulnerable to climate change and may differ depending on where you live. For instance, in Western US, warmer temperatures could reduce available water for electricity production.

Power producers could face significant challenges due to this, particularly in regions experiencing heat waves during summer months when electricity demand soars. Furthermore, it increases the potential risks of power outages which could cause massive disruption to daily life.


Floods are a global crisis, resulting in loss of life, destruction to property and disruption to water supplies and power production.

Floods can be caused by heavy rainfall or snowmelt that accumulates faster than soils and rivers can absorb it. They may also occur if a dam or levee breaks, or ocean waves come ashore.

Urban areas tend to experience flooding more frequently than rural ones due to the presence of impervious surfaces like roofs and paved highways, which prevent rainfall from absorbing into the ground and allowing it to drain away quickly.

Flash floods are particularly hazardous, occurring when a large amount of water enters an area in a short amount of time. They’re the most frequent type of flood and can be highly intense – occurring within minutes or hours after heavy rainfall or due to an ice jam or debris in a river or stream.