China’s Utilities In Hot Water As Coal Plants Squeeze Water Supplies

Courtesy of GigaOm, a report on China’s watergy crisis:

There’s a looming water crisis coming for China’s water-hungry coal plants, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Roughly sixty percent of China’s power plants (most of them running on coal) are located in Northern China, but only 20 percent of the country’s fresh water is found in the North.

The mismatch is a problem on a variety of levels. The “big five” state-owned utilities that operate many of these power plants are financially exposed to the water constraint, particularly because the Chinese government has set a cap on the country’s growing water use. And making these coal plants consume less water with the standard technology could ironically decrease the plants’ power efficiencies and boost their carbon emissions.

China power plants

But the water constraint will only continue to grow unless the utilities do something about it. The report says that by 2030 the amount of water used by China’s power sector could grow to 124 billion cubic meters — or even 190 billion in an aggressive estimate — from 102 billion cubic meters in 2010, due a potential tripling of the country’s power plants. 190 billion cubic meters of water would constitute a quarter of the country’s capped water supply in 2030.

The good news is there are some options for the utilities. They could build more of their future power plants outside of the North and particularly in some of the more wet regions. In addition, clean power like solar panels and wind turbines don’t require as much water resources, so these renewable technologies could start to look more competitive to utilities. These options could also be more attractive than retrofitting the plants to the more water efficient, but more power inefficient, kind which would cost them collectively $20 billion for 100 GW.

There could also be next-generation technologies that could help solve this water, power plant problem in China, too. Are any of the cleantech companies out there working on innovative solutions that could help?

As the world gets 9 billion people by 2050, and countries like China, Brazil and India start to consume more energy per capita, water will become an increasingly constrained resource. New water management, conservation, and recycling technologies will emerge to meet this challenge.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 26th, 2013 at 6:27 pm and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”