Generating Thermal Energy Requires Water, Lots of It

Water is an important part of the thermal energy process – one that we may not think as much about.

1 minute read

September 5, 2018, 12:00 PM PDT

By Camille Fink

Harbor Beach Power Plant

haveseen / Shutterstock

Akshat Rathi examines the role of water in thermal electricity generation, where it is used to condense cooled steam after the stream turns turbines. "In the US and Europe, more than half of the water drawn from nature is used for power generation. This year’s heatwave has forced some of those power plants to shut down," reports Rathi.

The amount of water used varies widely among types of thermal power plants. For example, the cooling towers of a nuclear power plant use over 1,100 gallons of water to produce a mega-watt hour of electricity while a geothermal power plant uses only 15 gallons. Rathi notes that this water goes back into the environment, but there is still a risk of the water temperature affecting plants and wildlife.

Hydropower, wind, and solar—non-thermal ways to generate energy—do not use water for cooling. However, hydropower uses large amounts of water for energy production. As a result, says Rathi, wind and solar power are the best bets for cutting both fuel and water use.

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