Hydrology and Water Resources: Current Research

Effects of Climate Change on Energy Supply and Demand in the Pacific Northwest and Washington State



Approximately 70 percent of electrical energy consumption in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is generated by hydropower. Because streamflow, mostly within the Columbia River basin, is the main power source, its climatic sensitivity has been a concern and has been the topic of several previous studies.

Regional hydropower production in the Columbia River basin has a profound impact on Washington’s energy supply. A number of Public Utility Districts (PUDs) in Washington, for example, receive the majority of their power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which markets ,most of the Columbia River’s hydropower production. Snohomish County PUD, to give one example, currently receives about 88% of its electrical energy resources from the BPA. Less attention has been given to the climatic sensitivity of energy demand in the PNW, although links between climate and the demand for fossil fuels and electric power are evident, and have been explored in past studies.

In addition to direct effects to energy supply (for instance, changes in the seasonality and annual volume of streamflow entering hydropower reservoirs), there are a number of indirect effects of climate on hydropower supply and demand. These include:

a) changes in hydropower production related to climate change adaptation for other water management objectives (e.g. changes in flood control or attempts to adapt to losses of instream flow in summer),

b) climate related effects to fossil fuel costs or availability,

c) climate related effects to renewable energy resources such as wind turbines or photovoltaic cells, and

d) shifts in population that may be partly related to changes in climate or water supply.

In this project, we analyze projected future changes in energy supply and demand in the PNW that specifically affect Washington State, addressing the following research questions:

Primary Funding

Washington State Legislature (House Bill 1303)

Related Publications

For publications on climate impacts on PNW water resources, please see CIG Publications.

Hamlet, A.F., S.Y. Lee, K.E.B. Mickelson, and M.M. Elsner. (In press). Effects of projected climate change on energy supply and demand in the Pacific Northwest and Washington State. To appear in Climatic Change .

Hamlet, A.F., S.Y. Lee, K.E.B. Mickelson, and M. McGuire Elsner. 2009. Effects of projected climate change on energy supply and demand in the Pacific Northwest and Washington State. Chapter 4 in The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment: Evaluating Washington's Future in a Changing Climate, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.