Dec 25, 2013

Drought and the water–energy nexus in Texas

Drought and the water–energy nexus in Texas
Source: Environmental Research Letters

Texas experienced the most extreme drought on record in 2011 with up to 100 days of triple digit temperatures resulting in record electricity demand and historically low reservoir levels. We quantified water and electricity demand and supply for each power plant during the drought relative to 2010 (baseline). Drought raised electricity demands/generation by 6%, increasing water demands/consumption for electricity by 9%. Reductions in monitored reservoir storage <50% of capacity in 2011 would suggest drought vulnerability, but data show that the power plants were flexible enough at the plant level to adapt by switching to less water-intensive technologies. Natural gas, now ~50% of power generation in Texas, enhances drought resilience by increasing the flexibility of power plant generators, including gas combustion turbines to complement increasing wind generation and combined cycle generators with ~30% of cooling water requirements of traditional steam turbine plants. These reductions in water use are projected to continue to 2030 with increased use of natural gas and renewables. Although water use for gas production is controversial, these data show that water saved by using natural gas combined cycle plants relative to coal steam turbine plants is 25–50 times greater than the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing to extract the gas.