06:38 10.02.2020

From coal to renewables in China: solving the water stress-power plant mismatch

Source: Eco Business
From coal to renewables in China: solving the water stress-power plant mismatch

How can one of the world’s most water-stressed countries meet growing energy demand while ensuring sustainable management of its water resources?

On the road from coal to renewable energy, China has a complex challenge to face: it must satisfy rising energy demand while reducing carbon emissions and sustainably managing water use without hobbling the power and agriculture sectors or the overall economy.

Water stress adds to the challenge, because 66.5 per cent of China’s coal-fired power plants are in areas where water is scarce — 70 per cent of China’s coal is mined in six northwestern provinces with only 8 per cent of the country’s renewable freshwater — and where coal competes with agriculture for its share. The way China tackles the mismatch between water stress and power plants could offer help for other countries facing similar challenges.

Overall, China is one of the world’s most water-stressed countries, with the per capita water resources less than 30 per cent of the global average. Nearly one-third of China’s land area, supporting 678 million people, faces high or extremely high water stress, according to Aqueduct China, which uses Aqueduct’s framework alongside local data for a nuanced view of the country.

Driven by western China’s coal reserves and eastern China’s growing energy demand, China started the West-to-East Electricity Transmission Project to shift a large proportion of thermoelectric power generation to northwestern regions near coal mines, where water stress is high or extremely high.

The study shows that coal-fired power plants in areas under high or extremely high water stress increased from 58.5 per cent to 66.5 per cent of the national total power generation from 2000 to 2015. The shifting spatial distribution of coal power generation has led to significantly increased thermoelectric water stress in large coal power industrial clusters (see Figure 3).

Western China is also an important agricultural region that includes major food-producing provinces such as Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. That means western regions under high water stress have faced more intensive competition for water from the growing power industry.

Economic development will increase power demand, and climate change will continue to create uncertainties about rainfall, water supply and social and economic conditions. Coal-fired power plants that rely on freshwater for cooling will become more vulnerable in water-stressed areas.

Water stress adds to the challenge, because 66.5 per cent of China’s coal-fired power plants are in areas where water is scarce.

Addressing the water-power challenge

Here’s how China is addressing this complex challenge:

Renewable energy. This is the key to China’s transition to a low-carbon, high-quality economy.

Renewable sources can meet the demand for electricity while offering environmental benefits. In 2017, China invested $126.6 billion in renewable energy, nearly half of the world total and more than higher than the United States ($40.5 billion). More than two-thirds of this investment was in solar PV, which now provides power to more than homes; the rest was in wind.

From 2010 to 2018, the total installed capacity of solar PV and wind power in China increased. China also sets an and promotes the development of energy storage technology. WRI research on energy storage technology in China aims to help promote renewable energy development.

For new and existing coal-fired power plants, China also adopted measures such as upgrading cooling systems, and improving water resources management.

Advanced cooling technologies. In 2004, after gradually recognizing the constraint water scarcity may impose on power generation, China’s National Development and Reform Commission required new coal-fired power plants built in water-scarce regions in northern and northwestern regions to adopt air-cooling technology, which can save nearly 80 per cent of water withdrawal compared to traditional recirculating cooling technology. Nationally, between 2000 and 2015, freshwater withdrawal and consumption have been decoupled from thermoelectric power generation growth, largely due to the changing structure of cooling technologies.

Water resources management. To promote sustainable water resources management and reasonable water allocations, China has started to implement the strictest water resources management. For the coal sector, the government has introduced regulations and guidance at the national and provincial levels, including implementing more stringent water withdrawal quotas for coal power plants according to their generation capacity and cooling system type in 2012, mandatory requirements on water resources assessment reports for coal-fired power projects in 2013. In 2019, the MWR has further set a cap on water use by coal plants, which is estimated to increase the water use efficiency of relevant companies by 10 per cent - 20 per cent. The 13th Five Year Plan for coal industry development also emphasised controlling development of coal-fired plants in regions with limited water and fragile environments. These policies have strengthened the effort to conserve water. The coal-fired power industry has become one of key water-saving promotion industries in China.

Water stress remains a regional challenge for China. The power sector needs to keep focused on renewable energy, as well as enhance the integrated management of water, energy and infrastructure.

Recent Posts

See All
Report: Air Pollution From Burning Fossil Fuels Cost The Global Economy $3 Trillion In 2018
05:45 12.02.2020
Report: Air Pollution From Burning Fossil Fuels Cost The Global Economy $3 Trillion In 2018
Greenpeace have released a new report highlighting the human and economic cost of pollution from fossil fuels. It found that burning gas, coal and oil leads to three times as many deaths as traffic accidents. It is estimated that polluted air costs China $900 billion each year while annual costs for the United States add up to approximately $600 billion
Source: Forbes
China’s Economic Shutdown Hasn’t Brought Blue Skies to Beijing
05:41 12.02.2020
China’s Economic Shutdown Hasn’t Brought Blue Skies to Beijing
Pollution levels in Beijing have soared to the highest level in nearly two years and are likely to worsen. The most usual suspects for the smog have been crimped by the government in order to halt the spread of the Coronavirus. Experts have pointed the cause to several possibilities, including residue from natural gas burned at power plants and home heaters, emissions from steel mills and industrial facilities.
Source: Bloomberg
The US cut its CO2 emissions more than any other country in the world in 2019, helping to keep total global emissions from growing past 2018’s record-breaking high
06:14 11.02.2020
The US cut its CO2 emissions more than any other country in the world in 2019, helping to keep total global emissions from growing past 2018’s record-breaking high
International Energy Agency released its report on global CO2 emissions, which showed that over the last 30 years, the main driver of CO2 has been largely driven by China and India, with emissions rising from 9.2 gigatonnes in 1990 to 22 gigatonnes in 2019
Source: Daily Mail