Connecting research on the water demand of power plants with mitigation strategies for energy-based water use is an important step to ensure global water and energy security, and thus provide more sustainable use of both. Here, we assess the water footprint of 13,863 thermal power plants units with a total active capacity of 4,182 GW worldwide and give an estimate of the current water demand for power production at four different levels—global, regional, country and river. Furthermore, we provide a projection for the energy transition period towards a net zero greenhouse gas emissions economy by 2050. In particular, we show that by following a ‘Best Policies Scenario’ the water consumption of global power plants can be decreased by about 98%, and water withdrawal by 95% by 2050. Therefore, the suggested pathway provides one potential solution to the problem of water depletion that results from the water-energy nexus.
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The data that support the findings of this study are available from GlobalData26, but restrictions apply to the availability, which was used under license for this study. The database encompasses over 170 fields of information, which include the names of power generators, owners, operators, generator manufacturers and so on. An extract of the extensive list of thermal power plants that exceed 50 MW, which contains fuel type, country, active capacity, generation type, location and type of cooling technology, is available as Supplementary Data 1. The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
Example Matlab scripts used in the production of this analysis are available at https://github.com/WaterEnergyWork/FreshwaterDemand.git
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The authors thank M. Flörke for helpful discussions concerning earlier versions of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Supplementary Figs. 1–10, Tables 1–12, Supplementary Notes 1–6 and refs. 1–11.
Power plant database, estimated water demand of individual power plants, projected water demand in 2020–2050 for the Lifetime and Best Policies Scenarios.
Comparison of identification of cooling technology and water type with the information reported in the US EIA database.
Water footprint of thermal power plants on regional, country and river levels; results of the sensitivity analysis; results of the comparison of the estimated water demand with the values presented in the GWSP Digital Water Atlas.
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Lohrmann, A., Farfan, J., Caldera, U. et al. Global scenarios for significant water use reduction in thermal power plants based on cooling water demand estimation using satellite imagery. Nat Energy 4, 1040–1048 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-019-0501-4
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