Freshwater Use by U.S. Power Plants

Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource

A Report of the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative

Power plants are thirsty.

Freshwater Use by US Power Plants

Take the average amount of water flowing over Niagara Falls in a minute. Now triple it. That’s almost how much water power plants in the United States take in for cooling each minute, on average.

In 2005, the nation’s thermoelectric power plants—which boil water to create steam, which in turn drives turbines to produce electricity—withdrew as much water as farms did, and more than four times as much as all U.S. residences.

It requires more water, on average, to generate the electricity that lights our rooms, powers our computers and TVs, and runs our household appliances, than the total amount of water we use in our homes for everyday tasks—washing dishes and clothes, showering, flushing toilets, and watering lawns and gardens.

Power plants across the country contribute to water stress.

This tremendous volume of water has to come from somewhere. Across the country, water demand from power plants is combining with pressure from growing populations and other needs, and is straining our water resources—especially during droughts and heat waves.

For example, the 2011 drought in Texas created tension among farmers, cities, and power plants across the state. At least one plant had to cut its output, and some plants had to pipe in water from new sources.

The state power authority warned that several thousand megawatts of electrical capacity might go offline if the drought persists into 2012.

Analysis to help make water-smart energy choices.

This report—the first on power plant water use and related water stress from the  Energy and Water in a Warming World initiative—is the first systematic assessment of both the effects of power plant cooling on water resources across the United States, and the quality of information available to help public- and private-sector decision makers make water-smart energy choices.

In this report, we examine both the withdrawal and consumption of freshwater.

  • Withdrawal is the total amount of water a power plant takes in from a source such as a river, lake, or aquifer, some of which is returned. Withdrawal is important for several reasons: water intake systems can trap fish and other aquatic wildlife; water withdrawn for cooling but not consumed returns to the environment at a higher temperature, potentially harming fish and other wildlife; and when power plants tap groundwater for cooling, they can deplete aquifers critical for meeting many different needs. Power plants that use once-through cooling technology tend to have high rates of withdrawal.
  • Consumption is the amount of water lost to evaporation during the cooling process. Consumption is important because it, too, reduces the amount of water available for other uses, including sustaining ecosystems. Plants that use recirculating cooling technology tend to have lower rates of water withdrawal, but consume much of that water through evaporation.

Technology choices matter.

Please view rest of report synopsis here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *