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Climate Change Impacts On Coal Fired Electricity Generation

Increasing temperatures are and will increasingly negatively impact on the performance of nuclear and coal-fired power stations – and the latter has been a major contributor to our warming world.

Nuclear and coal based electricity generation is often dependent on water for cooling plants. These plants need consistent volumes of water at a specific temperature in order to prevent the turbines from overheating.

A study by researchers from Wageningen University, the Institute of Energy and Climate Research in Germany and University of Washington predicts in the next half century, warmer water and lower flows will lead to increasing power disruptions. Warmer temperatures having an impact isn’t a maybe – it’s already been occurring in the United States and Europe in recent years.

The authors of the study say thermoelectric power generating capacity will decrease up to 16% in the USA and up to 19% in Europe from 2031 to 2060 due to this issue alone and complete or almost-total shutdowns have been projected to almost triple.

These shutdowns won’t just be an inconvenience – aside from obvious economic impacts, the situation can be life threatening when it occurs under heat wave conditions.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, also points out plants discharging water at elevated temperatures cause additional problems of downstream thermal pollution as aquatic organisms are often sensitive to temperature changes.

Aside from reliability and thermal pollution, the issue will also translate to higher electricity costs say the researchers.

Global carbon dioxide emissions, the primary culprit behind global warming, reached a record-high 31.6 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2011; with coal accounting for 45% of total energy-related CO2 emissions, oil 35% and natural gas 20% according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency.

With water-cooled electricity generation facilities supplying more than 90 percent of U.S. electricity and contributing three-quarters of the electricity supply in Europe, the case against nuclear and coal in favour of renewable energy continues to build.


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