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NETL Co-Develops New Model for Sustainable Freshwater Use by Power Plants

A new model developed by Argonne National Lab (ANL) and NETL, with support from DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy (FE), will help communities balance the often competing demands for water use among the power, agricultural, industrial, and residential sectors.

Most thermoelectric power plants in the U.S. rely on fresh water for cooling, resulting in significant water consumption, which can be a problem when local water supplies are scarce and those plants also draw on the same sources as nearby communities for use in daily life.

The above figure shows how the NETL data of the thermoelectric water use on the state and county level is integrated into the AWARE-US model. First AWARE-US calculates water scarcity factors by using data on natural runoff, HWC and EWR. Then to calculate the water stress impact is determined by multiplying the water scarcity factors by the thermoelectric water use. HWC is human water consumption and EWR is environmental water requirement. EWR is the amount of water required to sustain a riverine ecosystem.

Some plants have explored alternatives to single-use freshwater cooling cycles, such as reclaimed water or even ‘dry cooling’ that doesn’t rely on water. However, these approaches either incur additional costs or aren’t as efficient, thus limiting their widespread deployment. Balancing water supplies with community and power plant demands necessitates a greater understanding of the regional and seasonal water stress impact of such water consumption.

That understanding is made possible by Available Water Remaining for the United States (AWARE-US), a Microsoft Excel-based model that incorporates water supply and demand data across the nation at the county level by month (season) to understand both geographical and temporal variability in available water resources. The model itself was developed by ANL. NETL, using its wealth of experience in power plant technological innovation and water use, developed the unit power plant water use datasets to populate the model.

The seasonal water consumption impact of the U.S. thermoelectric power plants was evaluated using the AWARE-US model, which can help manage the water stress effects of existing power plants and guide the locations of future electric power plants to reduce water stress impacts while meeting the electric power demand. AWARE-US was also recently featured in the Journal of Cleaner Production to highlight the importance seasonal variations in water availability to thermoelectric power plants that is often obscured in data reported at the annual perspective. This new tool allows for short term risks to be identified and effective management strategies designed to increase the reliability of our thermoelectric fleet today and new generation assets in planning across the country.

“We have a responsibility to be good stewards of our water resources, and the AWARE-US model is a tool that can help the entire country do that,” NETL Project Manager Briggs White said. “This work, supported by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, enables decision makers to assess the relationships between how our nation makes power – particularly with coal and gas power plants - and the water it uses to do so.”

Because thermoelectric power plants will continue to play a major role in the U.S. electricity supply, detailed water stress analyses will help identify water-stressed regions and seasonal perspectives while enabling the implementation of water availability mitigation strategies. The AWARE-US model is primed to fill this role and users who could use it for their own planning can now download it directly from NETL free of charge.

The AWARE-US model can be downloaded here under System Studies and Benefits Analysis.

The full journal article in the Journal of Cleaner Production featuring AWARE-US can be viewed here.

This work was supported by FE’s Water Management program which addresses competing water needs and challenges through a series of dynamic and complex models and analyses that are essential in informing and deciding between priority technology choices.

The program encompasses the need to minimize any potential impacts of power plant operations on water quality and availability. Analyzing and exploring plant efficiency opportunities can reduce the amount of water required for fossil energy operations. New water treatment technologies that economically derive clean water from alternative sources will allow greater recycling of water within energy extraction and conversion as well as carbon storage processes. This helps reduce the amount of total water demand within fossil energy generation.

NETL is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory that produces technological solutions for America’s energy challenges. From developing creative innovations and efficient energy systems that make coal more competitive, to advancing technologies that enhance oil and natural gas extraction and transmission processes, NETL research is providing breakthroughs and discoveries that support domestic energy initiatives, stimulate a growing economy, and improve the health, safety, and security of all Americans. Highly skilled men and women at NETL’s sites in Albany, Oregon; Anchorage, Alaska; Houston, Texas; Morgantown, West Virginia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania conduct a broad range of research activities that support DOE’s mission to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States.