In developing nations, such as BRICS member states, access to reliable power sources and clean potable water remains a balancing act, which is not made easier by the detrimental impacts of climate change. According to an Africa Renewal report, which is published by the United Nations, Africa and its water resources will be one of the most negatively impacted by the effects of climate change.
In India, this challenge is being addressed by focusing its efforts on integrating water considerations into power sector planning for thermal and renewable energy development, which is highlighted by a recent study, Water use in India’s power generation: impact of renewables and improved cooling technologies to 2030, undertaken by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
With universal electrification a priority for India, these models have to account for responsible water use as freshwater is required for irrigation, and daily washing and cooking. Confronted by growing risks to water and energy security, the power sector needs long-term approaches to reduce its dependence on freshwater while also meeting other environmental objectives such as reducing atmospheric, water and soil pollution, the report summary stressed.
According to the analysis, the combination of improved power plant cooling technologies and renewable energy technologies (solar PV and wind), could lessen the intensity of freshwater use and carbon intensity of the power sector.
By 2030, the water withdrawal intensity of the electricity generation (excluding hydropower) could be reduced by up to 84%, consumption intensity by up to 25%, and CO2 intensity by up to 43% in comparison to the 2014 baseline. Coupled with continuing thermal and renewable capacity development, total water consumption in 2030 is estimated to increase by up to 4 billion cubic metres (m3).
Water withdrawal and consumption
The study illuminates that absolute water withdrawal (excluding hydropower) is projected to decrease under the IRENA Reference 2030 case, which notes that freshwater withdrawal could decrease by half in 2030, largely due to the elimination of once-through systems, representing a reduction of 9 billion m3 of freshwater withdrawn. Compared to the IRENA Reference Case, water withdrawal is projected to decrease further by 813 million m3 under the REmap scenario as savings from solar PV and wind increase.
Compared to 2014, the absolute withdrawals are projected to reduce by 9.5 billion m3 under CEA Scenario 1 and over 12 billion m3 under CEA Scenario 2. The current water withdrawal intensity of India’s power sector (excluding hydroelectricity) is largely driven by thermal power plants using once-through cooling systems. Withdrawal intensity could be reduced by upgrading plant cooling technology (Council on Energy, Environment and Water, 2017) and by supporting the development of less water-intensive generation technologies (European Wind Energy Association, 2014; National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2015).
Absolute water consumption is projected to increase in all scenarios compared to 2014, except for CEA Scenario 2, which is projected to see a reduction of 52 million m3 despite the doubling of the total generation through to year 2030. The primary driver for this reduction is the increase in share of renewable energy and a reduction in electricity generation from coal. In comparison, CEA Scenario 1 is projected to see water consumption rise by over 620 million m3 in 2027. In the case of the IRENA Reference Case and REmap 2030, an increase of over 4 billion m3 and 3 billion m3 is projected respectively in 2030 compared to 2014.
Notably, absolute water withdrawal is lower despite an increase in power generation due to the transition of thermal plants to recirculating cooling. However, in three out of four scenarios analysed, there is an increase in overall water consumption mainly due to increasing aggregate power generation capacity up to the years 2027 and 2030.
Primary drivers for change
The adoption of improved cooling technologies, as well as the deployment of a higher share of wind and solar PV, could substantially decrease water withdrawal and consumption intensity of non-hydropower generation. The shift in the power mix towards renewable energy, especially solar PV and wind, is estimated to contribute greatly to a reduction in consumption intensity while cooling technology change is the primary driver of reduction in withdrawal intensity.
Continuous policy and regulatory support is required to achieve both water and carbon benefits. On both counts, dedicated policies and mandates have already been introduced—including time-bound targets. However, their effective implementation and enforcement will be crucial to meeting the targets.
Furthermore, the magnitude of the impacts presented here demonstrates the importance of integrating water considerations, including associated risks, into power sector planning strategies. Investments in less water-intensive and low carbon technologies offer a pathway to managing the power sector while meeting environmental and energy security objectives. ESI
Acknowledgement: This article is republished from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report Water use in India’s power generation: impact of renewables and improved cooling technologies to 2030.
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