Scenarios for thermal power plant water use reduction using satellite imagery

Dec. 9, 2019
LUT University team analyzes scenarios for water use reduction, renewable energy by 2050

A team at Finland’s LUT University recently published the results of a study, in which it investigated water use in thermal power plants. The goal of the study was to “project future scenarios for water use reduction in light on the ongoing shift toward a greener economy,” Tech Xplore’s Ingrid Fadelli reports in an article titled “Study project scenarios for water use reduction in thermal power plants using satellite imagery

The study, which was published in Nature Energy, analyzed the water use of more than 13,000 thermal power plants worldwide and estimated water demand for power production globally, regionally, by country and by river.

“We linked a total of 13,863 thermal power plants with a total active capacity of 4,182 GW worldwide, which corresponds to 95.8% of the global thermal power plant fleet, to water bodies using the method of geographic information system (GIS) analysis, then estimated the water footprint of each of them, Alena Lohrmann, first author of the study, explains in the Tech Xplore article.

As the shift toward renewable energy continues to unfold, the team “wanted to carry out realistic estimations for the development of water demand that could provide valuable and reliable insight about possible future water use reduction scenarios,” Fadelli explains in the article.

In order to do this, the research team first identified the cooling technology used by each power plant, then analyzed the global demand for seawater and freshwater for thermal power plants using data from the GlobalData dataset. The study overcame the limitations of this dataset by using satellite imagery to identify the cooling technology used at each plant.

“Our study also presents an impact analysis for 354 major rivers globally carried out in a high temporal and spatial resolution,” Lohrmann says in the article. “This river analysis is of high relevance since thermal power plants mainly affect local aquatic ecosystems due to thermal pollution and increased water discharge.”

With this estimation of demand, the team created a best practices scenario model to identify the most affordable method for 100% renewable energy by 2050, Fadelli reports.

“Our study provides the assessment of potential water use reduction in global thermal power plants from 2015 (base year) to 2050,” Christian Breyer, head of the team, explains in the Tech Xplore article. “We showed that the transition toward a 100% renewable electricity system might reduce global water consumption of thermal power plants by 97.7%.”

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