The Parched Tiger: Sewage Water Won’t Solve India’s Coal Power’s Drought Problem

Via Greenpeace, details on a recent report the potential for sewage water to help solve India’s coal power’s drought problem:

The use of sewage to meet coal power plants’ cooling needs will not resolve the conflict over water between thermal power plants and farmers and urban communities, said Greenpeace India today, in a report titled ‘Pipe Dreams’[1]. In 2016, the government had made mandatory the utilisation of  treated sewage water for coal power plants within 50 km of a sewage treatment facility, with Minister Piyush Goyal urging that NTPC’s Mouda plant [2] use treated sewage from Nagpur in Maharashtra. Additional costs incurred are to be passed on to consumers in the electricity tariff. 

The drought in early 2016 led to severe water shortages for coal power, with several plants shutting down for months [3] amid protests by farming communities over water. The treated sewage policy was meant to tackle this problem, but GIS-based analysis shows that less than eight percent (18 GW) of the country’s coal plants can actually utilise treated sewage water; about 87% (200 GW) of the plants have no access to treated sewage water at all, making the efficacy of the policy questionable.

A 1,000 MW coal power plant requires a treatment capacity that can supply 84 million litres of water a day, but sewage treatment facilities [4] are mostly in metros far away from power plants, with almost 40% of the capacity in Delhi and Mumbai. For example, the states of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh together account for 77 GW of coal power but can supply treated sewage water sufficient for just 1.5 GW of coal power.  

“To claim that the use of sewage would solve coal power’s water problem would be like claiming a drop of water will save a man dying of thirst,” said Jai Krishna, Greenpeace researcher and author of the report. “A more effective solution to the water conflict would be to phase out old, inefficient power plants which tend to consume the most water and emit the most pollutants, while also halting permits for new coal power plants. Speedy adoption of the new water consumption targets will also help alleviate the crisis.”

The report also found that those power plants that are able to use treated sewage could see a 300-600% increase in water costs, apart from hundreds of crores in capital investments for treatment facilities. The resulting costs will be included in the tariff, increasing the burden on distribution companies and consumers.

According to data from Manthan Adhyayan Kendra[5] and Greenpeace India, India lost over 15 billion units of power generation due to raw water shortage at coal power stations between January 2016 and April 2017. Coal power plants require as much as 3.5 litres of water for each unit of power generated.  The 230 GW [6] of coal power plants included in this analysis would need about 19 billion litres of water each day for their operations. It is also important to note that treated sewage is important for downstream water flows. Sewage consumed by coal power plants is taken out of the local ecosystem and is not available for any use.

“With climate change and monsoon variability hitting India hard, we must act swiftly to mitigate the water crisis being caused by coal power. The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) in its draft national electricity policy has projected that no new coal power plants are need till 2027 at least. Solar power is already cheaper than coal. Despite this, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change is still granting clearances to new coal power plants. This is illogical and a waste of scarce resources,” said Jai Krishna.


  1. Link to the report:
  3. Water shortages cost Indian coal power companies over $500 million in revenues
  4. The data of sewage treatment plants in India is available at:
  6. About 230 GW of coal power plants which are operational and under construction are included in this analysis. This data also excludes power plants which use seawater for cooling or use air cooled condensers to the extent of information publicly available.

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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.”