Water impacts on thermoelectric power generation
Stillwell, Ashlynn Suzanne
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The energy-water nexus represents a complex system of correlated resources, with particular relevance to thermoelectric power plants. Since thermoelectric power plants typically depend on water for cooling, these facilities are prone to water-related challenges. At the same time, large water withdrawals for power plants can adversely impact other water users in a watershed. This work aims to evaluate water impacts on Texas power plant operations and the associated effects these power plants have on water availability. An evaluation of the water impacts on power generation in Texas was completed through four analyses: 1) water availability effects of changing cooling technologies, 2) economic value of drought resiliency through use of alternative cooling technologies, 3) dynamic impacts of reservoir storage on power generation operations, and 4) potential for reclaimed water as a cooling source. Based on the results of these analyses, the following general conclusions were drawn [bulleted list]: [bullet] Use of alternative cooling technologies decreases water withdrawals at the expense of additional energy and water consumption. However, the reduced withdrawals for power plants leaves more water in the stream for other water users, including instream flows. [bullet] Alternative cooling technologies incur additional capital costs, but gain value from reduced water withdrawals. The lower withdrawal requirements make such facilities more resilient to drought, which can have economic value from additional generation during possible drought-related curtailment or suspension. [bullet] Changing surface water reservoir storage at power plants has dynamic impacts on power generation operations, as well as other users in a river basin. Generally, decreasing power plant reservoir storage benefits other users in the basin. Instances arise where both beneficial and detrimental impacts are also observed. [bullet] Reclaimed water can be a technologically and economically feasible cooling source for many existing power plants. The future suitability of using reclaimed water for power plant cooling depends on water pipeline construction costs, reclaimed water flow, and water stress [end of bulleted list]. These general conclusions, along with further details, provide insight into the relationship between water resources and thermoelectric power plants. As resources become increasingly strained, understanding and responding to tradeoffs within the energy-water nexus, through such analyses, might become imperative for sustainable resource management.