Asia’s thirsty coal-fired power plants face water scarcity

(Eco Business, 8 Oct 2019) Coal-fired power plants that demand enormous amounts of water to cool down will prove to be an unsustainable source of electricity in the long run.

Asia’s reliance on coal-fired power may prove unsustainable in the long run because thermal power plants need to be cooled down with large quantities of water, the sources of which are drying up because of climate change, says a new study.

Coal-fired power plants in India and South-East Asia are most likely to be affected by future water shortages, says the study published 20 September in Energy and Environmental Science. Already, from 2013–2016, water shortages shut down 14 of India’s 20 largest thermal power stations, costing utilities US$1.4 billion in potential revenue, according to the World Resources Institute

“Our work suggests that electricity planning in developing Asia should coordinate with water resources planning and find solutions that benefit both energy and water users,” says Yaoping Wang, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Tennessee.

“Dry cooling equipment is not suitable for hot and humid regions like South Asia,” Yaoping tells SciDev.Net. “Power plants in the region under study have high water withdrawals and discharge the warmed water in a way that can damage ecosystems.”   

According to the study, more than 400 gigawatts of new coal-fired power plant capacity are planned to be in operation by 2030 in Mongolia, South-east Asia and parts of India and China.

“Implementing more water-efficient cooling systems in power plants can help, but not universally. These systems tend to require more energy to operate, says Jeffrey Bielicki, study co-author and professor in the departments of civil engineering and geodetic engineering at the Ohio State University.

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Eco Business, 8 Oct 2019: Asia’s thirsty coal-fired power plants face water scarcity