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Rivers as cooling towers for regional electricity

NSF Award:

Interactions Among Climate, Land Use, Ecosystem Services and Society  (University of New Hampshire)

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Running two computer models in tandem, scientists from the University of New Hampshire's (NH) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) program have detailed how thermoelectric power plants interact with climate, hydrology and aquatic ecosystems throughout the northeastern U.S. They have also shown how rivers serve as "horizontal cooling towers" that provide an important ecosystem service to the regional electricity sector, but at a cost to the environment.

The analysis, done in collaboration with colleagues from the City College of New York, highlights the interactions among electricity production, cooling technologies, hydrologic conditions, aquatic impacts and ecosystem services, and can be used to assess the full costs and tradeoffs of electricity production at regional scales and under changing climate conditions.

The goal of NH EPSCoR's Ecosystems and Society project is to learn more about ecosystem services in an effort to better manage the state's natural resources so that population growth and development proceeds in a sustainable fashion without threatening the quality of life that makes New Hampshire a desirable place to live and visit. The project collects data statewide through a variety of methods and networks to monitor such resources as forests, water, and soil quality and snowfall amounts.

The analysis was published online in Environmental Research Letters.


  • coal-fired power plant in new hampshire
Coal-fired power plant in Bow, New Hampshire. The plant discharges warmed water to the river which transports the heat.
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