Skip to main content

Shifts in hydropower operation to balance wind and solar will modify effects on aquatic biota...

by Henriette I Jager, Thushara De Silva, Rocio Uria Martinez, Brenda M Pracheil, Jordan Macknick
Publication Type
Journal Name
Water Biology and Security
Publication Date
Page Number

To avoid negative consequences to freshwater biota from climate change, society must complete the transition from fossil to renewable electricity sources. However, temporal patterns in hydropower generation (and flow releases that affect aquatic biota) may change with increased wind and solar penetration. We used power cost modeling to characterize current and future within-day and seasonal patterns in hydropower generation across the Eastern Interconnection in a wet and a dry year. Compared to the baseline, future hydropower generation across the grid decreased during the day and increased before dawn and after dusk. At a project level, such a pattern would suggest ‘double peaking’ operation (up- and down-ramping before dawn and after dusk, with lower releases midday). Variation in generation was higher in wet years than dry years, foreshadowing possible flow constraints on hydropower flexibility. At the grid scale, projected ramping rates were higher in all seasons. A review of the ecological literature suggests that these changes would shift the timing of invertebrate drift and elevate the risk of nest scouring during up-ramping and the risk of stranding or dewatering during down ramping. Thermal conditions may be moderated by increased ramping. Strategies for adapting to future shifts in the renewable portfolio range from re-regulation in reservoir cascades to providing flow refuge (structures and vegetation) below individual projects. Coordinated basin-scale operation can distribute peaking operation to maintain grid support while restricting local ramping at critical ecological times. In addition, research to design hybrid renewable systems that add battery storage is needed to understand how we can mitigate future risks to aquatic communities while promoting the use of renewable energy. This study, which is among the first to examine ecological side-effects of the shift to renewable energy in freshwater ecosystems, lays out a path toward understanding and navigating changes to flow regimes under the energy transition.