Reduced stream flows and rising water temperatures may reduce monthly generating capacity at nuclear, fossil fuel and bio-fuel powered plants by as much as 30 per cent by the 2050s.
Bloomberg newsagency reports the research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, says global hydropower capacity is expected to drop by as much as 3.6 per cent in the 2050s and almost double that amount by the 2080s.
“The world’s electricity sector strongly depends on the availability and temperature of water resources,” wrote the team of scientists led by Dr Michelle van Vliet of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
“Global warming, with increased climate variability and likelihoods of heat waves and droughts, may have important impacts,” Dr van Vliet added.
Bloomberg reports the study indicated those figures were based on current temperature trends.
That will vary by region, depending on the changing climate around the globe. Increasing stream flows over the century may increase capacity at power plants in parts of Canada, northern Europe, Russia and India, the researchers found.
Greater efficiency and changes to operations may help electric generators avoid the worst impacts, the authors said.
A 10 per cent increase in hydropower efficiency may be enough to offset annual reductions in capacity while other power plants may adapt by changing cooling systems and switching from coal to gas, according to the report.