Saving water is easier by replacing coal with gas or renewable energy: Study

'Switching to solar or wind energy would eliminate much of the water withdrawals and water consumption for electricity generation in the US.'

Washington D.C. [USA], Oct 27 (ANI): It has been found in a recent study that the transition from coal to natural gas in the US electricity sector is reducing the industry’s water use. It is helping in saving gallons of water and contributing to reducing water scarcity.
“For every megawatt of electricity produced using natural gas instead of coal, the water withdrawn from rivers and groundwater drops by 10,500 gallons, and water consumed for cooling and other plant operations and not returned to the environment drop by 260 gallons. Switching to solar or wind power could boost these savings even more” said Andrew Kondash, a post-doctoral researcher at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
The results of the study were published in ‘Environmental Research Letters’, 2019.
“While most attention has been focused on the climate and air quality benefits of switching from coal, this new study shows that the transition to natural gas — and even more so, to renewable energy sources — has resulted in saving billions of gallons of water,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.
These savings in both water consumption and water withdrawal have come despite the intensification of water use associated with fracking and shale gas production, the study says
Water consumption — the amount of water used by a power plant and never returned to the environment — drops by 260 gallons per megawatt, Vengosh said.
At these rates of reduction, if the rise of shale gas as an energy source and the decline of coal continues through the next decade, by 2030 about 483 billion cubic meters of water will be saved each year, the study predicts.
If all coal-fired power plants are converted to natural gas, the annual water savings will reach 12,250 billion gallons, that is, 260 per cent of current annual US industrial water use.
Although the magnitude of water used for coal mining and fracking is similar, cooling systems in natural gas power plants use much less water in general than those in coal plants. That can quickly add up to substantial savings since 40 per cent of all water use in the United States currently goes to cooling thermoelectric plants, Vengosh noted.
“The amount of water used for cooling thermoelectric plants eclipses all its other uses in the electricity sector, including for coal mining, coal washing, ore, and gas transportation, drilling, and fracking,” he said.
Even further savings could be realized by switching to solar or wind energy. The new study shows that the water intensity of these renewable energy sources, as measured by water use per kilowatt of electricity, is only one per cent to 2 per cent of coal or natural gas’ water intensity.
“Switching to solar or wind energy would eliminate much of the water withdrawals and water consumption for electricity generation in the US,” said Vengosh.
Natural gas overtook coal as the primary fossil fuel for electricity generation in the United States in 2015, mainly due to the rise of unconventional shale gas exploration.
In 2018, 35.1 per cent of USA’s electricity came from natural gas, while 27.4 per cent from coal, 6.5 per cent from wind energy, and 2.3 per cent from solar energy, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). (ANI)

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