A transition to power plants that capture and store carbon could increase water use, probably leading to shortages in a major UK river basin as early as the 2030s.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies that minimize emissions require a lot of water for cooling, but climate change is predicted to lead to drier summers in the United Kingdom. Edward Byers of Newcastle University, UK, and his colleagues used climate and hydrology models to analyse scenarios in which electricity production rises by 55% by 2040 as CCS technologies are fully adopted in the River Trent basin — the largest UK inland source of cooling water for power generation. The team projected declining river flows alongside rising demand for water from the power sector.

The researchers found that CCS power plants might become less reliable in the future when the river runs low, unless the most water-efficient technologies are used.

Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 024011 (2016)