Council on Energy, Environment and Water Integrated | International | Independent

Water for Electricity in India

A Multi-model Study of Future Challenges and Linkages to Climate Change Mitigation

Vaibhav Chaturvedi
January 2018 | Low-carbon Economy, Sustainable Water

Suggested citation: Srinivasan S, Kholod N, Chaturvedi V, et al. 2018. “Water for electricity in India: A multi-model study of future challenges and linkages to climate change mitigation.” Applied Energy , 210, 673-684. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2017.04.079


The study bridges knowledge gaps about water-energy nexus in India and indicates that water consumption depends on the energy mix and cooling technologies. It provides projections of water withdrawals and consumption for electricity generation in India through 2050. Based on the results from five energy-economic modelling teams, it explores the implications of economic growth, power plant cooling policies, and electricity CO2 emissions reductions on water withdrawals and consumption. The multi-model study also provides robust results regarding the different but potentially complementary implications of cooling technology policies and efforts to reduce CO2 emissions. Further, it analyses the implications of emission intensity reduction goals and water-saving standards for future water withdrawals and consumption for electricity generation.

Key Highlights

  • In the baseline scenarios, average emissions across the models increase to 5.6 billion tons (GT) of CO2 in 2050.
  • All scenarios apply some combination of hydroelectric power, solar power, wind, and nuclear, as well as some percentage of electricity generated from natural gas, but the proportions are different.
  • Coal power plants withdraw the largest share of water while hydropower plants are the largest water consumers.
  • Nuclear energy requires far more water than both solar and wind-based electricity generation.
  • Under water withdrawals and consumption in the low-carbon (LC) scenario, it is projected that the emission intensity reduction of electricity generation by 50 per cent is due to constant cooling shares and water intensities.
  • India can reduce average water withdrawals to just 12-18 BCM till 2050 by phasing out once-through cooling technologies and the reduction of water consumption to 2.5 m3/MW h or less, starting in 2030.
  • Shift to water-efficient cooling technologies reduces the water demands of the electricity sector. However, policy implementation is key for achieving this reduction.
  • Fifty per cent of implementation of water-saving technologies and cooling shares lead to a reduction in water consumption in the range of 7 to 28 per cent.
  • Water withdrawals under the 50 per cent policy implementation scenarios decrease in the range of 40 to 67 per cent. Full implementation of water-saving technologies and cooling shares decreases water withdrawals by 97 per cent from the baseline level.

Key Recommendations

  • Decarbonise the electricity sector as it serves to improve overall water-savings though the implications could vary depending on the geographical region.
  • Perform detailed regional assessment of water use in the most water-stressed areas, especially northern and north-western India.
  • Plan for water management strategies and technologies that can be deployed in most water-stressed regions to reduce water withdrawals once a spatial analysis has been undertaken.
  • Establish country-specific water withdrawals and consumption intensity coefficients. For example, India-specific water consumption will provide better estimates
  • Create a detailed water demand and supply model to analyse water use in India as a whole, as well as in most water-stressed regions.
An increase in water consumption for electricity generation will limit water availability for agriculture and other sectors of the economy. Therefore, decarbonising the electricity sector is an important concern.

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