An R&D Strategy to Decouple Energy from Water


Today more than 99% of thermoelectric power plants (coal Rankine, natural gas combined cycle, solar thermal, etc) in the United States utilize some form of wet cooling due to the superior thermal properties of water over air. Further, for large-scale building cooling applications, wet cooling of the condenser is employed as well. Globally, the projected growth of electrification and air conditioning deployment is a particular concern in water-constrained areas in northern Africa, the Middle East, and India where further cooling load requirements will put stresses on limited water supplies.

Because of the engineering performance of water as a cooling medium and its abundance and low cost, wet cooling of power plants accounts for 41% of freshwater draws in the US and 3% of total freshwater consumption. However, as recent drought events in the southern and western United States have illustrated, the availability of abundant, expendable water resources can no longer be assumed. Recent analyses point to increasing water scarcity under various climate change scenarios, resulting in multiple Quads of generation capacity being put at risk.