New research show that solar and wind power are directly linked to the sustainable management of groundwater availability.
Researchers at the International Institute for Applies Systems Analysis, Austria, have explored the methods of managing groundwater and hydropower trade-offs for different water availability conditions as solar and wind energy becomes more prominent in California, USA.gr
As the largest agricultural producer in the USA, California’s farming industry earned $47bn (~€42bn) between 2012 and 2017, despite have one of the most devastating droughts ever recorded.
The agricultural success of the area relied on the unsustainable use of groundwater. At the driest part of the drought season, the decreased availability of surface water also saw California’s hydropower generation plunge to substantially below average. The power deficit was offset by electricity generated through the state’s rapidly growing solar and wind resources, in addition to the increased use of natural gas and electricity purchased from outside the state.
In 2012, solar and wind electricity generation exceeded hydropower in California, this is because of a declining cost of wind turbines and solar photovoltaic (PV). Additionally, the popularity of the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandates more than a third of state-wide electricity generation from solar and wind energy by 2030.
This new study is the first attempt to quantify the added benefits of solar and wind energy on enhancing resilience to hydroclimatic shocks like droughts beyond its traditional role of improving air quality and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.
“Solar and wind energy in California will enhance drought resilience and benefit groundwater sustainability and therefore will create added value to both energy and food production,” explains study lead author Xiaogang He, an alumnus of the 2017 IIASA Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP).
The authors explain that in previous years the benefits of solar and wind energy were usually assessed in terms of fossil fuel replacement and air pollution reduction. Researchers found an increased solar and wind energy penetration can actually enhance drought resilience and groundwater sustainability by diverting the allocation of surface water from hydropower to irrigation, reducing ground water abstraction.