Around the world, energy systems are increasingly impacted by the effects of a changing climate. Energy systems, especially the electric-power system, are vulnerable to natural stressors such as wildfires, severe storms, extreme temperatures and long-term disruptions of the hydrological cycle. 


“As we have experienced in recent years, there have been more and more natural stressors on our systems, like the cold snap in Texas last year and the wildfires and droughts in the West,” said Mort Webster, professor of energy engineering. “Increasingly, these stressors are causing major regional power disruptions and there is good reason to think these may increase in the future with more climate change.”

Impacts of climate-related water stress and temperature changes can cascade through energy systems, although models have yet to capture this compounding of effects. A team of researchers led by Penn State has developed a coupled water–power–economy model to capture these important interactions in a study of the exceedance of water temperature thresholds for power generation.

“Models are typically operated independently of one another,” said Karen Fisher-Vanden, professor of environmental and resource economics and public policy, director of the Institute for Sustainable Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Science (SAFES), and principal investigator of the Program on Coupled Human and Earth Systems (PCHES), a U.S. Department of Energy supported project that funded this work. “Under different scenarios of changing weather patterns and extremes, the impacts on the human and natural systems can vary and the interactions between systems can be critical. This research integrates multiple existing models to capture the interactions and feedbacks.”

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