Fossil Fuel–Fired Power Plant Operations Under a Changing Climate

Published in: Climate Change (2020). doi: 10.1007/s10584-020-02834-y

Posted on RAND.org on October 13, 2020

by Aviva Loew, Paulina Jaramillo, Haibo Zhai, Rahim Ali, Bart Nijssen, Yifan Cheng, Kelly Klima

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Climate change introduces an uncertain risk to power plant operations as ambient conditions potentially constrain generation through thermodynamic limitations. Previous studies aiming to quantify this risk have suggested a wide range of results, from minimal to disastrous capacity loss. In this analysis, we used a power plant modeling tool to study how a variety of power plant configurations respond to varying meteorological conditions. We developed tools that enable the analysis of the climate impacts on power plant operations for a spectrum of geographic situations and technological configurations. We also used these tools to conduct a case study for US coal and natural gas power plants in 2050, under climate change scenario representative concentration pathway 4.5. Our study indicates that rising air temperatures are unlikely to seriously threaten capacity and efficiency at power plants at most locations, provided that wet recirculating and dry cooling systems are designed adequately. Our results allow for simpler modeling of power plant capacity deratings given ambient conditions, highlight potential regions of risk, and underscore the importance of incorporating climate factors into the electric power system's design and planning.

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