While hydropower in California is one the main sources of renewable energy, population growth has continuously increased demand for energy. In addition, recent droughts reduced the amount of available water behind the hydropower dams to provide the water head needed to run the turbines in hydropower plants. A more sustainable alternative, instead of developing new infrastructure, is to enhance the daily operation of reservoirs to support hydropower generation. This study suggests a new optimal operation policy for Folsom Reservoir in California and hydropower plants, which maximizes hydropower generation and reduces flood risk. This study demonstrates the application of the cellular automata (CeA) approach to optimize the daily hydropower operation of Folsom Reservoir. The reservoir operation is a nonlinear problem, where the hydropower generation and elevation-area-storage functions are the main nonlinearity to accurately represent the daily operation of the system. Moreover, the performance of the CeA approach under two extreme climate conditions, wet and dry, was evaluated and compared to the operation during normal conditions. Results showed that the CeA approach provides more efficient solutions in comparison to the commonly used evolutionary optimization algorithms. For the size of the non-linear optimization problem designed in this study, CeA outperformed genetic algorithm for finding optimal solutions for different climate conditions. Results of CeA showed that although the annual average inflow to the reservoir during the dry period was about 30% less than the normal condition, CeA offered about a 20% reduction in average hydropower generation. The new operation policy offered by CeA can partly compensate for the loss of the snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada under a warming climate. The approach and its outcomes support an informed decision-making process and provide practical reservoir operational guideline to remediate the adverse effects of hydroclimatic changes in the future.
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