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Hydroelectric Shortages Loom on the Horizon

Hydroelectric energy is often overlooked with the talk about energy sources, yet at 7%, it is the most popular US renewable energy source. This energy source is dependent on weather, and warning signs about shortfalls have been increasing recently and cast a pall on the year’s energy supply.

Hydroelectricity is the most popular form of renewable energy. Wind runs a close second, also at about 7% and solar energy contributes 2% of the total energy used in the US.

We Could Use the Rain

The Pacific Northwest and California are two of the nation’s biggest sources of hydroelectric power. Neither area has had heavy rains this spring and summer. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest River Forecast Center (NWRFC) above-average water supply in the northern half of the Columbia River Basin and below-average supply in the southern half, with stations in Oregon being lower than 70% of normal.

California has also had a dry year so far.  The Norther Sierra Precipitation Index is now about 25 inches and might increase about 10% more by the end of the water year.  This number would place the 2020 water year somewhere between the 3% – 7% driest year on record for this index, which has been in use for close to a century (98 years).

What does these indicators mean for US energy producers, many of whom are trying to move away from fossil fuels? In the short term, the pandemic has reduced energy usage, so the shortfall may not have a major impact. Longer term, the US will have find ways to boost its renewable output if the weather stays dry.

Paul Korzeniowski's picture

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