Hydropower and extreme drought: a case study of the Oroville complex in California

Hydropower is a flexible, low emission, cost effective, and renewable source of energy. However, it is highly dependent on natural hydrology, which in turn is influenced by future demand and climate change. Reduction in hydropower availability can result in higher energy and environmental costs. As California is facing a fourth year of drought conditions, hydropower facilities will need to be assessed for reliability. This study focuses on the hydropower generation at the Oroville Hydropower Complex, which is owned and operated by the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR). The hydropower generation at the Oroville complex is modeled and assessed under several future climate change scenarios, including periods of extreme drought conditions and future energy demands. The Water Evaluation and Planning Model (WEAP) was used in the hydropower evaluation of the Oroville Complex. Results showed that the short-term drought periods do not impact Oroville Complex hydropower generation, whereas long periods of drought do lead to power generation reductions. The maximum hydropower generation reduction was 30% under extreme drought conditions.