Assessing the impacts of droughts and heat waves at thermoelectric power plants in the United States using integrated regression, thermodynamic, and climate models

M.A. Cook, C.W. King, F.T. Davidson and M.E. Webber, December 2015 (Citation)


Recent droughts and heat waves have revealed the vulnerability of some power plants to effects from higher temperature intake water for cooling. In this evaluation, we develop a methodology for predicting whether power plants are at risk of violating thermal pollution limits.We begin by developing a regression model of average monthly intake temperatures for open loop and recirculating cooling pond systems. We then integrate that information into a thermodynamic model of energy flows within each power plant to determine the change in cooling water temperature that occurs at each plant and the relationship of that water temperature to other plants in the river system. We use these models together with climate change models to estimate the monthly effluent temperature at twenty-six power plants in the Upper Mississippi River Basin and Texas between 2015 and 2035 to predict which ones are at risk of reaching thermal pollution limits. The intake model shows that two plants could face elevated intake temperatures between 2015 and 2035 compared to the 2010–2013 baseline. In general, a rise in ambient cooling water temperature of 1 °C could cause a drop in power output of 0.15%–0.5%. The energy balance shows that twelve plants might exceed state summer effluent limits.


M.A. Cook, C.W. King, F.T. Davidson, and M.E. Webber, “Assessing the Impacts of Droughts and Heat Waves at Thermoelectric Power Plants in the United States Using Integrated Regression, Thermodynamic, and Climate Models.” Energy Reports. 193-203 (2015). doi: 10.1016/j.egyr.2015.10.002.