Asia may face water scarcity for new power plants

Washington: A new study has found that climate change and over-tapped waterways may significantly affect developing parts of Asia because of the lack of water to cool power plants.

The work was published today in the journal of ‘Energy and Environment Science’.

“One of the impacts of climate change is that the weather is changing, which leads to more extreme events — more torrential downpours and more droughts,” said Jeffrey Bielicki, a co-author of the study and an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University.

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“The power plants — coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants — require water for cooling, so when you don’t have the rain, you don’t have the streamflow, you can’t cool the power plant,” added Bielicki.

That is already a problem for some power plants in the United States, Bielicki said, where extreme weather patterns, which are increasingly frequent especially in hotter months, have reduced water supplies.

But, this study suggested, it is likely to be an even greater problem in developing parts of Asia — Mongolia, Southeast Asia and parts of India and China — where more than 400 gigawatts of new coal-fired power plant capacity are planned for operation by 2030.

That increasing power production will itself be part of the problem, the researchers found, creating greater demand for water at the same time that climate change significantly limits the supply.

“Capacity expansion and climate change combined is going to reduce the water available to cool power plants,” said Yaoping Wang, lead author of the study and a former doctoral student at Ohio State.

Wang, now a research assistant professor at The University of Tennessee, did some of this research while on a fellowship at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

Cooling is critical to a plant’s ability to operate — without it, machinery can overheat, and causing a shutdown that could disrupt the flow of electricity to homes and businesses, and creating the potential for additional pollution.

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