Coal power and water use

The world’s coal power plants consume enough freshwater to sustain 1bn people

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 29 March 2016

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

  

The world’s rapidly dwindling freshwater resources could be further depleted if plans for hundreds of new coal power plants around the world go ahead, according to a new Greenpeace International report.

First study of its kind

The report is the first global plant-by-plant study of the coal industry’s current and future water demand. The research also identifies the regions that are already in water deficit, where existing and proposed coal plants would speed up the depletion of water resources.

‘If all the proposed coal plants would be built the water consumed by coal power plants around the world would almost double. We now know that coal not only pollutes our skies and fuels climate change, it also deprives us of our most precious resources: water.’

HARRI LAMMI
Senior global campaigner on coal at Greenpeace East Asia

Red-list areas

Globally, 8,359 existing coal power plant units already consume enough water to meet the basic water needs of 1 billion people.

A quarter of the proposed new coal plants are planned in regions already running a freshwater deficit. Greenpeace calls these locations red-list areas, as water there is used faster than it is naturally replenished.

The top countries with proposed additional coal plant capacity in red-list areas are China (237 GW), India (52 GW) and Turkey (7 GW). Almost half of the proposed Chinese coal fleet is in red-list areas, while in India and Turkey the figure is 13%.

Coal and water

Coal is one of the most water-intensive methods of generating electricity. According to the International Energy Agency, coal will account for 50% of the growth in global water consumption for power generation over the next 20 years.

Greenpeace research shows that if the proposed coal plants come online, their water consumption will increase by 90%.

‘Governments must recognise that replacing coal with renewable energy will not only help them deliver on their climate agreements, but also deliver huge water savings. It’s more urgent than ever that we move towards a 100% renewable future.’

IRIS CHENG
Lead author of the Greenpeace International report

New policies

Greenpeace has proposed three key policy steps which, taken together, could turn around the coal industry’s water use:

  1. An immediate moratorium on coal expansion in regions with high water stress, and a transition from thirsty coal to energy that uses little or no water, like solar PV and wind.
  2. Replacing the planned coal plants in the red-list areas with renewable energy, such as solar PV and wind power, would avoid consumption of 1.8 billion cubic metres of water per year in China, and 1.2 billion cubic meters per year in India.
  3. Closing plants that have been operating for 40 years. The US could save a staggering 9 billion cubic meters of water by shutting down its old coal power plants.

Click here to read the full report, The Great Water Grab: How the Coal Industry is Deepening the Global Water Crisis.

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