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Understanding the impacts of droughts and heatwaves on global energy production and associated GHG emissions, and potential feedbacks with climate.

Project Description

Project Rationale:
Power generation is highly dependent on water resources, either directly from hydropower (16% of global production) or via cooling of thermoelectric power plants (70% globally), and therefore subject to reductions during droughts and heatwaves. Recent work has evaluated this globally [1] showing reduced production by up to 10% during historic regional droughts. With climate change induced regional drought increases, this is likely to become more problematic in the future, and particularly in the developing world where there are major investments in hydropower (50-70% increase by 2040). Other recent work [2] has shown that, for the Western US, drought induced power curtailing leads to switching to natural gas and imports of fossil fuel based production with increases in GHG emissions of up to 15%, with implications for meeting emissions targets. Despite its significance, little is known about how production and emissions are impacted globally and under future climates and energy policies such as the EU Energy Union Strategy, and the environmental impacts via changes in river flows and temperatures. The aim of this project is to make first estimates of the global impact of drought/heatwave induced power curtailing and the associated enhanced emissions and environmental impacts under historic and future scenarios.

Funding Notes

You can apply for fully-funded studentships (stipend and fees) from INSPIRE if you:
Are a UK or EU national.
Have no restrictions on how long you can stay in the UK.
Have been 'ordinarily resident' in the UK for 3 years prior to the start of the project.

Please click View Website for more information on eligibilty and how to apply


[1] Van Vliet, M., Sheffield, J., Wiberg, D., & Wood, E. (2016). Impacts of recent drought and warm years on water resources and electricity supply worldwide. Environmental Research Letters, 11(12), 1-10. DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/11/12/124021
[2] Herrera-Estrada, J., N. S. Diffenbaugh, F. Wagner, A. Craft, J. Sheffield. Response of electricity sector air pollution emissions to drought conditions in the western United States. Environmental Research Letters, 2018; 13 (12): 124032 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aaf07b
[3] Lin, P., Pan, M., Beck, H. E., Yang, Y., Yamazaki, D., Frasson, R., et al. ( 2019). Global reconstruction of naturalized river flows at 2.94 million reaches. Water Resources Research, 55.

How good is research at University of Southampton in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 68.62

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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