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Power Earth

Collision Between Water and Energy Is Underway, and Worsening 189

Posted by Soulskill
from the just-put-power-plants-underwater-duh dept.
An anonymous reader writes "This article is an eye opening perspective on another side effect of power generation — water usage: 'More than 40 percent of fresh water used in the United States is withdrawn to cool power plants. Renewable energy generally uses far less water, but there are glaring exceptions, such as geothermal and concentrating solar.' The article also mentions that power plants have to shut down if the incoming water is too warm to cool the plant. 'Also, even though some newer plants might use far less water, they could find that there’s far less water available as water temperatures go up and water flows go down. Another study found that nearly half of 423 U.S. plants were at risk of lower power output during droughts because their intake pipes for water were less than 3 meters below the surface.'"
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Collision Between Water and Energy Is Underway, and Worsening

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  • by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Friday July 19, 2013 @06:40PM (#44333291)

    More power plants = more greenhouse gases = global warming = higher seas

    You know, assuming that all of these power plants output greenhouse gases. If not, someone needs to get on that.

    • by ElementOfDestruction (2024308) on Friday July 19, 2013 @06:50PM (#44333341)
      I know, right? I'm so sick of this "Sky is Falling" liberal nonsense. Humans will eventually learn to drink sea-water, just the way Darwin intended. Deal with it.
      • by steelfood (895457)

        Humans will eventually learn to drink sea-water or die, just the way Darwin intended. Deal with it.

        I know you're being facetious, but FTFY.

        • Are you saying that Darwin was a necrophiliac? Because I'm certainly not.
          • Why not? Why not use turd-water to cool plants?

            It don't got to be clean drinking water for their purposes. We can send 'em water after it passes through sheep and people, and their toilets.

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              People -> Sewer -> AIWPS [sdsu.edu] -> Power Plant

              This does produce some byproducts... namely methane and algae. Which are both useful.

            • by symbolset (646467) *
              This is what they do at The Geysers geothermal plant.
            • "Why not? Why not use turd-water to cool plants?"

              We tend to build large power plants far from large groups of people. High-tension wires are much, much less expensive than plumbing water back the same distance. Where we do build them, the amount of grey water tends to be tiny.

              I should note the NG peakers, which are rapidly replacing a significant portion of North America's generation mix, do not have to use cooling water, or at least nowhere near the same amount.

            • by RockDoctor (15477)

              Why not? Why not use turd-water to cool plants?

              I'm pretty sure that you're being facetious to some degree, but you do have a point. You certainly don't need drinking grade water to cool power plant, but there are limits nonetheless. Not just on total suspended solids, but also on dissolved salts, dissolved oxygen and a variety of other factors. The details change from plant to plant, and sometimes don't get found out until after the plant is built. Most people get the bulk chemistry issues more or less righ

    • by Anonymous Coward

      maybe i am missing the sarcasm, but i believe fresh water availabilty is the concern (for power plants).however,higher seas, coastal flooding, massive civilization downgrades and shifts....maybe that IS the answer!!

      • No, no. More salt water = more desalinization plants = more power plants = more salt water.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You're missing the moral problem. Technically, yes, civilization will adapt. But it won't be equitable. Those in poor nations will bare the brunt of it; the poor in this country will bare the brunt of it. Tens of millions will die horrible deaths, while your children will simply pay higher electricity bills.

        It's the inequality of needlessly impose suffering that is fundamentally immoral, disregarding various ecological arguments.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by ChrisMaple (607946)
          The moral flaw is with the people who told you that you were educated. "Bare" isn't "bear". Can you find the flaw in your second paragraph?
    • More power plants = more greenhouse gases

      How exactly is that true for nuclear power plants?

      You're right that it's true for all other forms of energy production.

      • by mspohr (589790)

        Nuclear, wind and solar don't generate greenhouse gasses during operation. (They all generate some greenhouse gasses during construction.)
        Nuclear uses lots of water to cool the plant. Wind and solar photovoltaic don't use water during operation.

        • by DarkOx (621550)

          Nuclear, probably generates quite a bit of carbon durning constructions because so much concrete is used, which is very very carbon intensive to produce.

    • by mysidia (191772)

      More power plants = more greenhouse gases = global warming = higher seas

      Except if the higher seas are too hot for cooling the plant, also due to global warming....

    • What about using nuclear (reduced life cycle greenhouse gasses, yes, we need diesel to mine uranium/thorium) with a closed loop system through the heat exchangers? The problem is plants that tap well, river or ocean water, and run it through evaporative cooling towers. This problem is created by the economic advantage granted to building gignormous plants that can't dispose of heat easily to their cool heatsink (thermodynamics baby) in order to do work. Now about a small nuke plant like the naval reactors
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 19, 2013 @06:41PM (#44333301)

    The fact that powerplants borrow water to cool themselves is no big deal. They give it all back.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That's probably even harder than trying to explain to what passes as an environmentalist these days that it's only steam rising out of nuclear power plants. They'll keep screaming that power plants burn babies to make energy and that they all need to shut down so we can go back to eating alongside sheep, which makes the whole cause look stupid.
      • by stevew (4845) on Friday July 19, 2013 @07:01PM (#44333413) Journal

        What is even more ridiculous is the 40% number. Come ON! What about Agriculture. In CA something like 90% or our H2O usage goes to growing things. The power generation is tiny. Then there is the little detail that many of our power plants use ocean water!

        I'm calling BS on that number.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          It doesn't seem entirely out of line. From my hydrology textbook last year: cooling edges out agriculture for water utilization nationally, and both are much higher than the third biggest, which I believe is landscaping use.

          But hey, the textbook could be entirely wrong. I'm sure your 90% figure is well-sourced.

          • From my hydrology textbook last year: cooling edges out agriculture for water utilization nationally ... But hey, the textbook could be entirely wrong.

            Either your textbook is completely wrong, or you just misunderstood what it said. Cooling uses very little water. It is no where near either agriculture or household use. The main problem with power plants is not that they "use up" water, but that they warm it up, causing thermal pollution. But the water is still available for other uses downstream.

            Perhaps your textbook was talking about hydro-electric power plants (dams). But those don't use the water for cooling.

        • by Shoten (260439)

          The number seems fishy to me...because every power plant I've ever seen that was cooled with fresh water sits on a lake. The water enters the plant from the lake, cools the steam coming off of the turbine(s), and goes back to the lake. Some of it first goes through an osmosis filter for demineralization; that water becomes the steam that directly turns the turbine. But yeah...it's not like any of the water is destroyed or even vented as steam to the air. And the water they use isn't directly potable; th

          • by Cramer (69040) on Friday July 19, 2013 @08:27PM (#44334055) Homepage

            Most power plants built the lake in the first place. And they don't discharge into the lake; they discharge at or downstream of the dam -- so they aren't pulling in their own hot water. Next to none (read: NONE) of the intake water is used in the turbine steam loops -- those are 100% closed loops, if you're losing water you have a problem. (a serious problem for nuke plants.) [note: steam loops use distilled water -- ZERO minerals, RO reduces the mineral/particle volume, but it's not zero.]

            That said, there are still numerous plants that use evaporative cooling towers. And they do, indeed, require a significant volume of water that is "consumed" -- it goes up as vapor. While it isn't "drinking water", it's water that's not available to the filter plant that feeds your taps. In a drought, you have a choice... cool the power plant, or have water to drink.

            • by Shoten (260439) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @02:12AM (#44335365)

              Most power plants built the lake in the first place. And they don't discharge into the lake; they discharge at or downstream of the dam -- so they aren't pulling in their own hot water. Next to none (read: NONE) of the intake water is used in the turbine steam loops -- those are 100% closed loops, if you're losing water you have a problem. (a serious problem for nuke plants.) [note: steam loops use distilled water -- ZERO minerals, RO reduces the mineral/particle volume, but it's not zero.]

              That said, there are still numerous plants that use evaporative cooling towers. And they do, indeed, require a significant volume of water that is "consumed" -- it goes up as vapor. While it isn't "drinking water", it's water that's not available to the filter plant that feeds your taps. In a drought, you have a choice... cool the power plant, or have water to drink.

              Regardless of who built it, a lake is a closed body of water, period. And yes, they DO discharge into the lake, typically; if you take water out of a lake and release it into a river, you drain the lake. I'm not guessing at this; I work for the very large civil engineering company that is mentioned in the article; not only do we do a huge amount of work in the power gen world (we're building the second-largest power plant in the world in South Africa right now), but 30% of the world's drinking water comes from water purification or desalinization plants that we built. I've been doing NERC CIP compliance work since before the auditing deadlines for the first 18 requirements (NERC CIP was implemented in stages at first), so I've spent about 6 years in the power industry by now, at about two dozen utilities in total.

              And you're right, next to no water is used in the steam loops, but some is...as I said. Enough is important that the demin plant is considered a critical asset if the plant itself is considered critical, and there's a large storage tank of demineralized water to give some cushion in case there's a problem with the RO filters. And you are right about the zero minerals, but every plant I've ever seen...CT or ST...used RO filters. They use a lot of them, in series.

              But to get back on point...if you take water from a river and put it back in a river...or from a lake to a river downstream...you're still not using up that water. You're just moving it from one point to another. Again, neither is potable water, and it's not causing a net loss.

              Evaporative cooling towers...also called passive cooling towers...are extremely rare outside of nuclear installations. They're very expensive to build in comparison. Even among energy engineers, they're something of a curiosity for the fossil generation world. So that won't add up to the 40% cited.

              • by dak664 (1992350)

                An impoundment does result in a surprising increasing of evaporative loss compared to the free-river run. So a nominally non-consumptive water use such as hydroelectric generation or river cooling of the condenser can involve considerable fresh water loss, usually only important to downstream consumers.

                Cooling towers are by definition totally consumptive and are also comparatively expensive so they are mostly used for nuclear plants which make steam at a much lower temperature than coal plants. Thus the sm

    • by icebike (68054) on Friday July 19, 2013 @07:07PM (#44333465)

      The fact that powerplants borrow water to cool themselves is no big deal. They give it all back.

      No, no, the article says "withdrawn" which means its not in the water bank anymore.
      So at 40% per year, in two and a half years there will be no water left in the bank. We are Doomed.

      To protect your future, you should run down and withdraw all your water from the bank today.
      Horde it in your bed. (That's why water beds were invented).

      • So at 40% per year, in two and a half years there will be no water left in the bank. We are Doomed.

        You my friend need to learn about exponential growth and, as in this case, decay. At 40% withdrawals each year there'll be water for ... somewhat more than a hundred years. By then we'll have the technology to give each citizen the correct number of water molecules they're allowed to withdraw from the bank.

        Sadly, the H2O molecule is finite, however small - were water infinitely divisible we'd have had water forever AND test Planck scale effects in the not too distant future. Provided we also developed suita

    • by sjames (1099)

      Yes. I don't know why TFA is so hung up on the 40% since it's not like they boil it away of something.

      The more significant issue of plants shutting down due to inadequate cooling water or the cooling water being too warm was crammed into the first two paragraphs and the map, then they went into the weeds.

      • by tompaulco (629533)
        Well, it is true that we use 40% of our water for cooling energy plants, but that is kind of small in comparison with the fact that we use 10 million percent of our water, and growing by the second.
    • by edjs (1043612) on Friday July 19, 2013 @07:58PM (#44333827)

      The study is more about the risks that power plants may not have enough water available, not that they are using it up. The plants are competing for the water with those that do consume it, such as agriculture and residential, exacerbated by long term drought cycles in some areas, and climate change.
       

      • There's no mention about how much water fracking a well can use. It's going to take 4-8M gallons to frack a single well. It's ridiculous that they think they can frack in the western states. Our forests are on fire. We're having THE worst fires, year after year, and it's only projected to get worse. Maybe they can use 8.5M gallons to frack a single well [bridgemi.com] in Canada when they have the water resources of Michigan, but not in the west. That project is slated to expand to 500 wells that will use 4B gallons o

    • by mspohr (589790)

      Ever seen a "cooling tower" (common for nuclear plants and coal plants)? Water disappears into thin air, not into the ground.
      That's the problem that TFA was discussing.

      • by VanessaE (970834)

        "Water disappears into thin air, [...]"

        And then it goes...where exactly? Oh, wait a sec - there was something I read back in grade school, the "water cycle", I think the called it? Some mumbo-jumbo about water in the air turning into clouds and falling as rain/snow.

        Cutting the sarcasm for a moment, that's my biggest gripe with all of these "OMG WE'RE USING UP ALL OUR WATER! TURN OFF YOUR SPRINKLERS!!!" types. The water doesn't just disappear or fly off into space - it goes right back into the environment

  • "less than 3 meters below the surface.'" That can't be fixed, ever...[sarcasm]
    • by edjs (1043612)

      Studying and pointing out the risks increases the chances it will be fixed before it becomes an issue.

      • by Rockoon (1252108)
        What the hell are you talking about? You do realize that we are talking about a simple pipe, right?
  • NSA Datacenter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SecretSquirrel33 (1857738) on Friday July 19, 2013 @07:04PM (#44333451)
    I live close to the new NSA data center in Bluffdale, Utah [wired.com]. Currently we are under a drought with widespread municipal water restrictions, yet the NSA surveillance center requires 1.7M gallons of water daily [ksl.com] to operate.
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday July 19, 2013 @07:10PM (#44333499) Homepage

    Water-cooled power plants take in water. And then they put it out again, warmer. They don't use it up. At worst some of it comes out as water vapor from cooling towers, which condenses out.

    • by NIK282000 (737852)

      Unless you are shipping your water off planet, none of our water gets "used up." Water that comes out of a power plant doesn't go directly into the city water, it has to be collected and treated first. That collection and treatment costs money, time and energy.

      • by mysidia (191772)

        They should follow the approach Google is using in some datacenters, and use the recycled/treated gray water for the power plant.

        The power plants need not take in potable water; they could largely take in the sewer water, before using it to cool the plant, treat it a bit further, and then dump that back out into the rivers....

  • LFTR (Score:1, Informative)

    by gunnaraztek (1077439)

    Such a simple solution.

    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor

    Has passive safeties, does not use water to cool, heats up gas to generate power.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LFTR [wikipedia.org]
    http://energyfromthorium.com/ [energyfromthorium.com]

  • by BoRegardless (721219) on Friday July 19, 2013 @07:16PM (#44333549)

    When you put generators down 5-6000 feet in deep fast ocean currents, which run virtually at constant speed year round, the amount of power available down there is staggering. Obviously it only works near coastline regions, but that is where the large populations tend to be, though not all coasts have deep water currents.

    Superconducting long distance transmission lines are improving in capability, so maybe distance is not so much a problem in the future.

    It is not technically difficult or polluting. We already put complex anchors and devices at those depths for oil drilling.

    No need for radioactive stuff, no cooling, no dead birds, no pulsing noise to humans, no polution.

    It takes damn good engineering, but that is what we are damn good at.

    Start now.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If I learned anything from the stellar season finale of Sea Quest: DSV, it's that your plan will result in devastating, apocalyptic seismic events that will prove, conclusively, that there is no free energy on this planet. Which in retrospect actually makes Captain Planet's byline, "The power is yours", seem a little ironic.

    • by dbIII (701233)
      Especially in places like off the coast of the Atacama desert in Chile - you don't have to go deep to get a big temperature difference between the water temperature (with the cold current coming all the way from Antarctica) and the air temperature on land.
  • I mean really 2/3rds of the planet is covered in the stuff. You don't think you're going to run out of water. And then you do. Gasoline felt the same way in the 70's. Funnily enough, even though we haven't reached that point with water yet, a lot of people will pay more per gallon for it than for gasoline today, for bottled water that the grocery store filled from its taps.
  • So if the greens can't shut down all fossil fuel/nuclear plants on the basis of carbon dioxide/nuclear waste, they will shut them down on the basis of OMG, we are are running out of water and will all die of thirst. If that angle to shut down the world's energy production doesn't work, then they will dream up of another scenario to give them the regulatory power to do so. In the environmentalists view, the only acceptable forms of energy generation are solar/wind, but only in somebody else's backyard. Ne

    • So even the power companies have shills here. We should feel special, I suppose.

  • If you would like to do a little further digging on unwise usage of water look into large scale ethanol production (not whiskey) http://www.swhydro.arizona.edu/archive/V6_N5/feature4.pdf [arizona.edu] sorry i don't know how to use html (I am a geek just not a good one!) My fancies lie in the chemistry and drug development distribution world....please forgive.
  • by u19925 (613350) on Friday July 19, 2013 @07:25PM (#44333631)

    The study referenced in article says, "And in Texas, regulators denied developers of a proposed 1,320-megawatt coal plant a permit to with draw 8.3 billion gallons". Since USA has about 1100 GW of installed capacity (including hydro), this approximately translates into 7.5 trillion gallons or about 20 billion gallons a day. According to ucsusa [usgs.gov], the total withdrawal by power plants is 200 billion gallons a day. So it looks like the old power plants are the main culprits.

    • Yeah, well, they can reduce that consumption figure a lot by using air cooling. They can also use the waste heat to distill brine and manufacture drinking water, like in Arabia. This is just another 'Oh no the sky is falling' story.
  • Water circulates. It moves all over the place whether we like it or not. We should be more concerned about pollution than water. It doesn't truly get "used" as much as it gets moved from one place to another.

    All that said, we continuously use increasingly more efficient things which use energy. It's important we continue doing that. We continually develop efficient energy production systems. It's important we continue doing that... and perhaps important that we do that even more. Efficiency is good f

  • ...HHO engines instead where it turns back into clean water?

  • In power plants, water is kind of being used as a cheap waste heat reservior. We are just too cheap to use other heat exchange techiques since water is cheap and available, other exchangers/reservior techniques are less economically viable.

    Most folks realize that opening your fridge to cool your house probably isn't a long term solution.
    That's when they install AC where at least the heat reseviour is outside the house.
    But of course if you were to scale your AC unit past a certain point, it's kind of like y

  • Most of the water used for cooling goes back into the lake or river since it's being used to take heat somewhere else instead of being consumed.
    Warm water can have a non-trivial environmental impact but newer plants can reduce this to trivial by having a lot of small outlets instead of one large one.
    • by mysidia (191772)

      Warm water can have a non-trivial environmental impact but newer plants can reduce this to trivial by having a lot of small outlets instead of one large one.

      They can construct an artificial body of water, and mix the output water with fresh water, before releasing it back into the sea.

      • by mspohr (589790)

        Pollution dilution... it's been around for a long time... still not a solution.

        • by dbIII (701233)
          If the "pollution" is just heat then you can solve it completely. It just costs more for holding ponds or multiple outlets. If the water temperature a few metres away from the outlets is close to ambient the problem is solved.
    • by PPH (736903)

      Nobody needs hot water? Not for laundry or dishwashing or anything?

      Build plants near cities and pipe the warm water in.

  • Burn more of that Coal baby, we'll beat the Chinese yet!

    Typical AC, the U.S. is between two of the largest bodies of water on this planet which is grinningly ignored.
    • Can not even come close. China burns almost 4x as much coal as the USA does, and it is growing fast for China while shrinking for America.
  • In South Africa, most coal power plants are air cooled. If water use really becomes a problem in the USA, they will change too. In the mean time, this is just a normal 'Oh no the sky is falling' story.
  • Seriously. You have a problem in which our power plants make heavy use of cooling. IOW, it has to dump that 'waste' heat somewhere. Yet, it is only 'waste' in the same sense that 'spent' fuel is stored at nuke plants.

    That heat can either heat buildings, OR COOL them. [wikipedia.org] What is needed is to simply pipe the heat to larger buildings and For the most part, most of our power plants are located close to businesses. With this being used to heat/cool buildings, it becomes a nice way to 'dump' that heat.
  • by plopez (54068) on Saturday July 20, 2013 @10:46AM (#44336711) Journal

    Both use a large amount of water, esp. when you factor in the water needed to transport the tar sands via pipeline. And a fair amount of tar sands are in desert areas, where water is scarce.

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