Assessing Hydropower Potential under Shared Socioeconomic Pathways Scenarios Using Integrated Assessment Modelling
2. Materials and Methods
The WILIAM model, which includes the submodules of Economy, Energy, Land and Water, Society, Demography, Materials, and Climate, runs in 9 regions, defined as European Union (EU27); United Kingdom (UK); China; India; Eastern Asia and Oceania (EASOC); United States, Mexico, and Canada (USMCA); Russia; Latin America (LATAM); and Rest of the World (LROW). Additionally, the economic data run in 62 sectors, divided into Agriculture, Industry, Transport, Energy, and Households sectors, and they are also linked with other submodules, such as Land and Water.
The ratio of precipitation divided by evapotranspiration (ratio P/E), for each region, was computed for three future periods—2020–2039, 2040–2059, and 2060–2079—and compared with the present climate, the historical period 1995–2014. Values of ratio P/E > 1 indicate that future ratio P/E may increase and, consequently, the water availability may increase. On the contrary, values of ratio P/E < 1 indicate that the ratio can decrease in future years and that the water availability will be lower. The ratio P/E influences the hydropower capacity, which depends on biophysical limitations. In the case of hydropower, these limitations are ratio P/E changes, which are linked to water availability changes. These modifications affect hydropower production, which depends on both climate change and socioeconomic factors.
The world in SSP1 (“Sustainability—Taking the green road”) is characterized by a shift towards sustainability, with effective cooperation in all sectors of the economy and a rapid transition to low-carbon practices. In the economy, the emphasis changes from economic growth to human well-being, with a decrease in inequality and high levels of investment in education and health. The population will increase until the middle of this century and then decline. In the energy sector, there is an emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainable practices; thus, SSP1 is the scenario that has the highest share of renewable energy, with less energy demand and a significant reduction in fossil fuel use. The world will have low challenges in terms of mitigation and adaptation.
SSP2 (“Middle of the Road”) illustrates a path similar to the one that the world is currently on in terms of its social, economic, and technological trends. Economic development is still differentiated between countries and regions, and the markets function imperfectly, with slow progress in reaching sustainable development goals. The world population is expected to grow in a moderate way, with stabilization after the middle of the century. In the energy sector, there is a moderate share of renewable sources, with a substantial yet slowly diminishing role for fossil fuels. The world will have moderate challenges in terms of mitigation and adaptation.
SSP3 (“Regional rivalry—A rocky road”) portrays a world with several regional disparities and high competition, leading to policies increasingly oriented toward national and regional concerns, with uneven efforts to address global challenges. Education and technology will receive less investment, leading to high levels of inequality between and within countries and regions, together with strong environmental degradation in some regions. Population growth is expected to be highly differentiated, being low in industrialized countries and high in developing countries. In the energy sector, there is still a strong dependence on fossil fuels, with a slower adoption of low-carbon technologies, leading to higher GHG emissions compared to the other SSPs. The world will have high challenges to mitigation and adaptation.
SSP4 (“Inequality—A road divided”) describes a future with high levels of inequality, as technological improvements and environmental conservation practices are uneven. Economic growth will be moderate in industrialized middle-income countries, with a higher contrast with low-income countries, characterized by several basic problems. Technology development is expected to be prominent in the high-tech sectors of the economy. The world population is expected to undergo a similar trend to the one in the SSP2 scenario. Energy is focused on traditional and less efficient energy sources. Globally, fossil fuels dominate the energy mix, and the share of renewable energy is thus limited. However, there will be some development of low-carbon supply options, leading to low challenges to mitigation. On the other hand, the challenges to adaptation are high.
Finally, SSP5 (“Fossil-fueled development—Taking the highway”) envisions a future where economic growth is prioritized over environmental concerns. There is a focus on innovation which produces rapid technological progress, with high levels of investment in education, health, and the enhancement of social and human capital. Economic and social development, combined with high energy demands, leads to rapid growth in the global economy. Environmental impacts are addressed using technological solutions. The world population is expected to experience a similar trend to the SSP1 scenario. Energy sources rely on the mass exploitation of fossil fuel resources and a relatively low share of alternative renewable sources. This world will have high challenges to mitigation and low challenges to adaptation.
Derived from exploring the sectorized global primary energy use across the five SSPs, our analysis results reveal distinctive trends, as well as shifts in energy sources, which have significant implications for the future global energy landscape. A crucial observation is the progressive decline in coal’s energy contribution, which becomes negligible after 2060 in SSP1 and later in SSP4. Furthermore, the diversified trajectories of oil energy share are a result of the combined effect of the coal share reductions, particularly in SSP1 and SSP4, and the increased share of natural gas in all SSP scenarios. The fact that coal’s share is higher in the SSP3 and SSP5 scenarios is related to the fact that in these scenarios, there are no incentives for the use of less carbon-intensive energy sources; thus, carbon taxes are lower, and when the price of coal is lower than that of oil, the former is preferred in the model and replaces oil use. In all SSP scenarios, natural gas becomes the dominant energy source, which reflects the combined effect of the lower price of this commodity and a preference for lower carbon emissions, a general premise of the IAM used in this study.
The share of renewable energy sources, despite remaining lower in absolute value when compared to fossil sources, does evidence a significant increase when compared to the historical values. Particularly the SSP1 and SSP2 scenarios, generally show higher usage of renewable energy with an increasing share, which reaches above 400% and almost 300%, respectively, in 2080. SSP4 shows a moderate increase in renewable energy use, with values around half of those of SSP1. SSP3 and SSP5 indicate a very limited share in renewable energy use, decreasing slightly over time. In these two scenarios, nuclear power remains almost constant throughout time and continues to provide more energy than renewables, which contrasts with the other scenarios, particularly in SSP1 and SSP2, in which renewables are more relevant.
While the results of this study align with certain aspects of published articles on SSPs, the energy values found in this study differ, underscoring the complexity of predicting future energy landscapes accurately. The five main SSP narratives loaded in the IAM were also used by the IPCC in their reports. The decision was made to use only the baseline scenario in each of the SSP’s narratives to study the IAM outcomes in the absence of new climate policies beyond those already in place today. Nevertheless, the objective of this article is not to fully represent the future world but instead to model the future differing trends in energy use while acknowledging that the IAM has some limitations.
This work emphasizes the importance of using the SSPs scenarios in combination with an IAM, providing insights for future climate research. The scenarios cover a broad range of dimensions; however, the SSPs baseline scenarios have limitations in the way they incorporate climate policies focused on reducing emissions and also in the accounting of feedback mechanisms associated with the impacts of climate change on the economy, energy, and land management.
The narratives of the SSPs considered in this study provide a framework for the various dimensions that determine the challenges to mitigation and adaptation. In this work, they are used to generate potential scenarios for the evolution of the global energy system, particularly for the share of renewable sources in the energy mix and, even more specifically, for hydropower production.
The SSPs scenarios vary significantly in terms of the energy futures they depict, encompassing different demand trends and supply systems. The factors influencing these differences include assumptions about technological innovations, socioeconomic development, energy demand, and the balance between the availability and costs of fossil fuels and renewable alternatives.
The energy demand projections across the different SSPs scenarios vary widely, impacting mitigation and adaptation challenges. The SSP3 and SSP5 scenarios rely heavily on fossil fuels, particularly coal, posing high mitigation challenges. In contrast, SSP1 and SSP4 foresee an increasing share of renewable sources, associated with successful energy efficiency measures, thus depicting a future with fewer mitigation challenges. The SSP2 scenario, characterized as a “middle-of-the-road” narrative, envisions a balanced evolution of the energy landscape that entails a sustained reliance on the current fossil fuel-dominated energy mix, presenting challenges of intermediate magnitude in terms of both mitigation and adaptation.
The projections for hydropower energy use present a dynamic landscape, displaying varied trajectories across the different SSP scenarios. Most scenarios indicate that a general increase is probable. SSP1 and SSP2 project the highest increase, especially after 2040, while the SSP5 scenario stands out with a notable deviation in the form of a decrease in the 2060–2079 period. The influence of climate change, particularly alterations in water availability, adds another layer of complexity to hydropower production projections. The dissimilar results across the five SSPs and nine regions highlight the nuanced interplay of socioeconomic factors and climatic influences and their impacts on the future of hydropower.
These findings highlight the importance of considering a range of potential future scenarios in energy planning and policy development. The varied outcomes across the scenarios emphasize the need for flexibility in strategies to accommodate for uncertainties and address the challenges posed by divergent trajectories in hydropower use and renewable energy shares.
Suggestions for future work include the integration of feedback mechanisms into the SSP scenarios, which might improve the understanding of the way climate change impacts might influence socioeconomic development. Another approach that can be adopted is to explore cross-sectoral interactions in more detail, examining how changes in one sector (e.g., energy) might impact others (e.g., agriculture, water resources). This can provide insights into potential synergies or conflicts between different development pathways.
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