Response of electricity sector air pollution emissions to drought conditions in the western United States

Herrera-Estrada, J., Diffenbaugh, N., Wagner, F. ORCID:, Craft, A., & Sheffield, J. (2018). Response of electricity sector air pollution emissions to drought conditions in the western United States. Environmental Research Letters 13 (12) e124032. 10.1088/1748-9326/aaf07b.

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Water is needed for hydroelectric generation and to cool thermoelectric power plants. This dependence on water makes electricity generation vulnerable to droughts. Furthermore, because power sector CO2 emissions amount to approximately one third of total US emissions, droughts could influence the inter-annual variability of state- and national-scale emissions. However, the magnitude of drought-induced changes in power sector emissions is not well understood, especially in the context of climate mitigation policies. Using multivariate linear regressions, we find that droughts are positively correlated to increases in electricity generation from natural gas in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington; and from coal in Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Using a statistical model, we estimate that this shift in generation sources led to total increases in regional emissions of 100 Mt of CO2, 45 kt of SO2, and 57 kt of NO x from 2001 to 2015, most of which originated in California, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. The CO2 emissions induced by droughts in California, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington amounted to 7%–12% of the total CO2 emissions from their respective power sectors, and the yearly rates were 8%–15% of their respective 2030 yearly targets outlined in the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Although there is uncertainty surrounding the CPP, its targets provide appropriate reference points for climate mitigation goals for the power sector. Given the global importance of hydroelectric and thermoelectric power, our results represent a critical step in quantifying the impact of drought on pollutant emissions from the power sector—and thus on mitigation targets—in other regions of the world.

Item Type: Article
Research Programs: Air Quality & Greenhouse Gases (AIR)
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 18 Jan 2019 09:29
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:31

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