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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Assessing the impacts of California drought on agricultural energy consumption

  • Author(s): Ak, Muhammed Yasir
  • Advisor(s): AghaKouchak, Amir
  • et al.

Energy consumption and water resources are closely interrelated. Extracting, treating and transferring water requires energy, yet is essential for energy generation process including cooling power plants or hydropower generation. Drought conditions lead to increased groundwater pumping in California’s agriculture sector, which causes an increase in energy consumption. This brings the intertwined connection between energy and water into focus. Our study analyzes the relationship between agricultural energy consumption, primarily from groundwater pumping in response to droughts, from 1986-2013. The results show that precipitation has a strong relationship with agricultural energy consumption (correlation: -0.53). California experienced one of the most extreme droughts on record between 2012-2016. Agricultural energy consumption increased by 13% during the 2012-13 period compared to the long-term average. Typically, droughts significantly increase agricultural energy consumption, and thus lead to more CO2 emissions. During 2012-2013, the carbon footprint of agricultural energy consumption increased by 2.22 million metric tons (MMT) relative to the long-term average. In this thesis, we use a copula based conditional probability approach to determine the probability energy consumption and CO2 emissions under different drought conditions. We show that a decrease of four inches in California precipitation can lead to a 30% increase in the probability of agricultural energy consumption being above average. This increase in energy consumption corresponds to a 166% increase in the probability of above average CO2 emissions. As increasing CO2 emissions stimulate climate change, there will be an increase in extreme climatic events, such as floods and droughts. This increase in drought events will further cause increases in CO2 emissions, expediting climate change. Policy makers must consider these positive feedback loops in their decision-making, and dampen the impacts of drought on agricultural energy consumption.

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