India should address water management challenge in adding power capacity: IEA

G Balachandar Chennai | Updated on April 17, 2021

India is one of the world’s most water stressed countries   -  K_R_DEEPAK

Agency has come out with two key strategic priorities to ensure a more resilient power sector

With India’s power sector development over the next two decades set to take place against a backdrop of increasing water stress, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has advised that water management challenges be addressed while boosting power capacity. The agency has come out with two key priorities to ensure a more resilient power sector.

“Shifting to dry and non-freshwater cooling to improve the thermal fleet’s resiliency to water stress and fully integrating water-energy linkages in India’s technology choices and policies will help meet power demand while reducing pressure on precious water resources,” said Tomás de Oliveira Bredariol, IEA Energy and Environmental Policy Analyst; Molly Walton, Independent consultant and Vaibhav Chaturvedi, Economist at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water in an IEA note.

Unenviable situation

With just 4 per cent of the world’s water supply but 18 per cent of its population, India counts as one of the world’s most water stressed countries. But its rapid economic ascent in recent years has put more pressure on energy and water resources. Coal-fired power generation, which makes up about 70 per cent of electricity generation in India, accounts for 80 per cent of the energy sector’s water withdrawals. It is essential that operators increase the share of dry or non-freshwater cooling in new thermal plants, retrofit old ones and make better use of water-recycling.

India is already using non-freshwater cooling in some of its plants. For example, Mundra UMPP, third largest coal power plant in the country, was built in a drought-prone area and uses desalinated seawater for cooling and other applications. Indian government has also mandated coal plants to use recycled sewage water if they are located close to municipal treatment plants. However, just 5-8 per cent of all coal plants in India have access to treated waste water.

Meanwhile, dry cooling has a higher capital cost and reduces power production by 7-8 per cent as well as the efficiency of the plant. Thus, only 2 per cent of the coal power plants use the technology.

Need for govt financing

Upscaling of this technology will require supporting policies, such as dedicated government financing or an adjustment of power prices in water-stressed areas, the note said.

A preference for clean energy technologies can be of help, but not all low-carbon technologies and fuels have low minimal water requirements. A proper planning is required while considering plant design and location. For example, the government can prioritise the development of renewable energy in water-stressed areas.

Managing water use patterns in other sectors can also help. In Gujarat, agricultural pumping accounts for more than 20 per cent of the State’s energy demand and shifting this load to the daytime would help align peak demand with solar output. This is possible because the State has a dedicated agricultural feeder system, which allows the interruption of agricultural supply without impacting other consumers. Shifting today’s the predominantly night time scheduling to the day would reduce the start up needs from thermal generation sources by about 40 per cent and cut operating costs by about 10 per cent.

Another promising option for power sector balancing is pumped-storage hydroelectricity, which involves pumping from a reservoir at a lower elevation to an upper storage facility during periods when there is excess power generation. This technology can constitute a cost-effective way of providing storage capacity, with limited energy losses, and help to manage power supply for both peak demand hours and longer duration needs.

Published on April 16, 2021

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