Climatic Change

, Volume 151, Issue 3–4, pp 395–412 | Cite as

Assessing climate change impacts on California hydropower generation and ancillary services provision

  • Kate Forrest
  • Brian TarrojaEmail author
  • Felicia Chiang
  • Amir AghaKouchak
  • Scott Samuelsen


Climate change is expected to significantly reshape hydropower generation in California. However, the impact on the ability of hydropower to provide reserve capacity that can provide on-demand, back-up electricity generation to stabilize the grid in the case of a contingency has not been explored. This study examined the impact of climate change-driven hydrologic shifts on hydropower contributions to generation and ancillary services. We used projections from four climate models under Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 to evaluate the impact of climate change conditions, comparing the future period 2046–2055 to the baseline 2000–2009, and observed a net increase of inflow into large hydropower units in northern California. However, as extreme events yield greater spillage, increased overall inflow did not necessarily yield increased generation. Additionally, higher winter generation and summer reservoir constraints resulted in decreases in the spinning reserve potential for both RCP scenarios. We also examined a regionally downscaled “long drought” scenario under RCP8.5 to assess the impact of an extended dry period on generation and spinning reserve bidding. The long drought scenario, developed as part of the California 4th Climate Assessment, involves rainfall congruent with 20-year historical dry spells in California under increased temperatures. In addition to decreased generation, the long drought scenario yielded a 41% reduction in spinning reserve bidding tied to a decline in reservoir levels. The decreased spinning reserve bidding from hydropower may require increased reliance on other electricity resources that can provide the same dynamic support to maintain grid stability under climate change.



We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modeling groups (listed in Table S4) for producing and making their model output available. For CMIP, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provided coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

The California Map used in this article was created using ArcGIS® software by Esri. ArcGIS® and ArcMap™ is the intellectual property of Esri and is used herein under license. Copyright © Esri. All rights reserved. For more information about Esri® software, please visit

Funding information

The authors acknowledge the California Energy Commission for providing funding for this work under the Long-Term Climate Scenarios project, Agreement #: EPC-14-074.

Supplementary material

10584_2018_2329_MOESM1_ESM.docx (6.4 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 6565 kb)


  1. Brekke, Levi, Andy Wood, and Tom Pruitt. 2014. “Downscaled CMIP3 and CMIP5 hydrology projections release of hydrology projections, comparison with preceding information, and summary of user needs.” Google Scholar
  2. Climate Change Technical Advisory Group. 2015. “Perspectives and guidance for climate change analysis.” California Department of Water Resources.
  3. California Energy Commission. 2017. “California hydroelectric statistics & data.” Google Scholar
  4. CAISO. 2006. “Spinning reserve and non-spinning reserve.” Google Scholar
  5. CAISO. 2008. “Market issues and performance: 2007 annual report.” Google Scholar
  6. CAISO. 2017. 2016 annual report on market issues and performance. Google Scholar
  7. CAISO. (n.d.)“OASIS.”
  8. Cayan DR et al (2008) Climate change scenarios for the California region. Clim Chang 87(S1):21–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chang MK, Eichman JD, Mueller F, Samuelsen S (2013) Buffering intermittent renewable power with hydroelectric generation: a case study in California. Appl Energy 112:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Deng S-j, Shen Y, Haibin S (2006) Optimal scheduling of hydro-electric power generation with simultaneous participation in multiple markets. In: 2006 IEEE PES power systems conference and exposition, IEEE, pp 1650–1657CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Department of Water Resources. 2017. “California data exchange center.” Google Scholar
  12. Diffenbaugh NS, Swain DL, Touma D (2015) Anthropogenic warming has increased drought risk in California. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 112(13):3931–3936CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Doorman GL, Nygreen B (2002) An integrated model for market pricing of energy and ancillary services. Electr Power Syst Res 61(3):169–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ehsani A, Ranjbar AM, Fotuhi-Firuzabad M (2009) A proposed model for co-optimization of energy and reserve in competitive electricity markets. Appl Math Model 33(1):92–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Electric Power Research Institute. 2013. “Quantifying the value of hydropower in the electric grid: final report.” Google Scholar
  16. FERC. 2001. “Addressing the 2000–2001 western energy crisis.” Google Scholar
  17. Gaudard L, Romerio F (2014) The future of hydropower in Europe: interconnecting climate, markets and policies. Environmental Science & Policy 37:172–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Georgakakos AP et al (2012) Value of adaptive water resources management in Northern California under climatic variability and change: reservoir management. J Hydrol 412–413:34–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Guégan M, Uvo CB, Madani K (2012) Developing a module for estimating climate warming effects on hydropower pricing in California. Energy Policy 42:261–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haddeland I, Skaugen T, Lettenmaier DP (2006) Anthropogenic impacts on continental surface water fluxes. Geophys Res Lett 33(8)Google Scholar
  21. Hanasaki N, Kanae S, Oki T (2006) A reservoir operation scheme for global river routing models. J Hydrol 327(1–2):22–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hardin E et al (2017) California drought increases CO2 footprint of energy. Sustainable Cities and Society 28:450–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hayhoe K et al (2004) Emissions pathways, climate change, and impacts on California. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 101(34):12422–12427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. IPCC 2013. Climate change 2013 - the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G. K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia.] ed. Intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge: Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  25. Knowles N, Dettinger MD, Cayan DR (2006) Trends in snowfall versus rainfall in the Western United States. J Clim 19(18):4545–4559CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kravitz, Raquel. 2017. “Projected climate scenarios selected to represent a range of possible futures in California.” Google Scholar
  27. Liang X, Lettenmaier DP, Wood EF, Burges SJ (1994) A simple hydrologically based model of land surface water and energy fluxes for general circulation models. J Geophys Res 99(D7):14415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Loose, Verne W. 2011. “Quantifying the value of hydropower in the electric grid: role of hydropower in existing markets.” Sandia LaboratoriesGoogle Scholar
  29. Madani K, Guégan M, Uvo CB (2014) Climate change impacts on high-elevation hydroelectricity in California. J Hydrol 510:153–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Maurer EP et al (2007) Detection, attribution, and sensitivity of trends toward earlier streamflow in the Sierra Nevada. J Geophys Res 112(D11):D11118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Maurer EP, Duffy PB (2005) Uncertainty in projections of streamflow changes due to climate change in California. Geophys Res Lett 32(3):L03704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Medellín-Azuara J et al (2008) Adaptability and adaptations of California’s water supply system to dry climate warming. Clim Chang 87(S1):75–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Null, S.E., and J.H. Viers. 2012. “Water and energy sector vulnerability to climate warming in the Sierra Nevada: water year classification in non-stationary climates.” California Energy Commission (CEC-500-2012-015)Google Scholar
  34. Pierce DW, Cayan DR, Thrasher BL (2014) Statistical downscaling using localized constructed analogs (LOCA). J Hydrometeorol 15(6):2558–2585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Stewart IT, Cayan DR, Dettinger MD (2005) Changes toward earlier streamflow timing across Western North America. J Clim 18(8):1136–1155CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Tanaka SK et al (2006) Climate warming and water management adaptation for California. Clim Chang 76(3–4):361–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Tarroja B et al (2014) Evaluating options for balancing the water-electricity Nexus in California: part 2–greenhouse gas and renewable energy utilization impacts. Sci Total Environ 497–498:711–724CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tarroja B, AghaKouchak A, Samuelsen S (2016) Quantifying climate change impacts on hydropower generation and implications on electric grid greenhouse gas emissions and operation. Energy 111:295–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. (n.d.) “New melones unit project.”
  40. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2014. “California drought leads to less hydropower, increased natural gas generation - today in energy - U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).” Google Scholar
  41. US Geological Survey California Water Science Center. 2011. “Water data: annual data reports.” Google Scholar
  42. USGS Water Resources. 2017. “National Water information system.” Google Scholar
  43. van Beek LPH, Wada Y, Bierkens MFP (2011) Global monthly water stress: 1. Water balance and water availability. Water Resour Res 47(7)Google Scholar
  44. Vicuna S et al (2008) Climate change impacts on high elevation hydropower generation in California’s Sierra Nevada: a case study in the upper American River. Clim Chang 87(1):123–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Vicuna S, Dracup JA (2007) The evolution of climate change impact studies on hydrology and water resources in California. Clim Chang 82(3):327–350CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Vicuña S, Dracup JA, Dale L (2011) Climate change impacts on two high-elevation hydropower systems in California. Clim Chang 109(1):151–169CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Vine E (2012) Adaptation of California’s electricity sector to climate change. Clim Chang 111(1):75–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zhu T, Jenkins MW, Lund JR (2005) Estimated impacts of climate warming on California water availability under twelve future climate scenarios. J Am Water Resour Assoc 41(5):1027–1038CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Advanced Power and Energy ProgramUniversity of California IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of California IrvineIrvineUSA
  3. 3.Department of Mechanical and Aerospace EngineeringUniversity of California IrvineIrvineUSA

Personalised recommendations