China's coal-fired power plants impose pressure on water resources

Xinxin Zhang, Junguo Liu*, Yu Tang, Xu Zhao, Hong Yang, P.W. Gerbens-Leenes, Michelle T.H. van Vliet, Jinyue Yan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

66 Citations (Scopus)


Coal is the dominant fuel for electricity generation around the world. This type of electricity generation uses large amounts of water, increasing pressure on water resources. This calls for an in-depth investigation in the water-energy nexus of coal-fired electricity generation. In China, coal-fired power plants play an important role in the energy supply. Here we assessed water consumption of coal-fired power plants (CPPs) in China using four cooling technologies: closed-cycle cooling, once-through cooling, air cooling, and seawater cooling. The results show that water consumption of CPPs was 3.5 km3, accounting for 11% of total industrial water consumption in China. Eighty-four percent of this water consumption was from plants with closed-cycle cooling. China's average water intensity of CPPs was 1.15 l/kWh, while the intensity for closed-cycle cooling was 3-10 times higher than that for other cooling technologies. About 75% of water consumption of CPPs was from regions with absolute or chronic water scarcity. The results imply that the development of CPPs needs to explicitly consider their impacts on regional water resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1171-1179
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Coal-fired power
  • Water consumption
  • Water-energy nexus


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