Water, Energy, and Climate Change: Freshwater Use by Power Plants in the United States


Start Date

Primary Investigators
S. Tellinghuisen (Western Resource Advocates)
R. Newmark (NREL)
J. Macknick (NREL)
D. Yates (NCAR)
Public utility commissions
Water resource planners
Electric utilities

PIs have been actively publishing research exploring critical questions at the nexus between energy and water. Particular attention has been paid to the impacts of shifts in water resources on national and regional electricity generation. The research completed in 2012-13, and published through 2013 explores this issue on the national scale, in the A-C-T Basin in the Southeast, and in the Colorado River Basin. Further work showed that although power plants, on average, are not contributing to water stress, building a single thermoelectric plant can directly impact local water availability for other uses in a way that establishing a single farm cannot. Therefore, it is important to consider sensitivity of water resources when siting power plants. Currently, WWA is engaged in a project through the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA), where PIs are mapping future electricity demands, future water demands, onto water availability as defined by 3 different climate scenarios derived from CMIP5 output. A paper on that work is forthcoming.

Averyt, K, J Macknick, J Rogers, N Madden, J Fisher, J Meldrum and R Newmark (2013), Water use for electricity in the United States: an analysis of reported and calculated water use information for 2008. Environ. Res. Lett., 8 (1)

Averyt, K, J Meldrum, P Caldwell, G Sun, S McNulty, A Huber-Lee and N Madden (2013), Sectoral contributions to surface water stress in the coterminous United States. Environ. Res. Lett., 8 (3)

Yates, D, J Meldrum and K Averyt (2013), The influence of future electricity mix alternatives on southwestern US water resources. Environ. Res. Lett., 8 (4)

S. Cohen, J. Meldrum, K. Averyt, J. Macknick, I. Rangwala (in preparation) Sensitivity of powerplant development to different CMIP5 hydrologic projections.

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