Evolution of Electric Sector Water Use Under Alternative Electricity Futures

Stuart Cohen, Saroj Khanal, Jordan Macknick, Ariel Miara, Maxwell Brown, Vincent Tidwell

Research output: NRELPoster


Increasing competition for water resources in the United States could create future challenges for allocating and using thermal cooling water in the U.S. electric power sector. While thermal power plant retirements and the growth of wind and solar technologies can reduce national aggregate power sector cooling water use, local water constraints and growing demand for agricultural or municipal supply could create greater needs for higher-cost alternative water supplies such as groundwater or recycled wastewater. For some regions, these incentives could change future electricity planning and operational decisions. These relationships and impacts are studied here using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS), a national electric sector planning model that has recently been upgraded to include a highly detailed representation of thermal cooling water demand and supply. Thermal power technologies are differentiated by both cooling technology and water source type to track and constrain thermal cooling water use in a way that incorporates both physical and legal water considerations in the United States. This capability is exercised under a range of electricity sector futures with alternative technology costs, fuel prices, and water constraints to illustrate ways that U.S. electric sector water use could evolve under uncertain future electric sector drivers. In exploring changes to regional generation and transmission planning and operation, water requirements, and cost, we highlight the environmental and economic impacts of future power sector water decisions.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2019

Publication series

NamePresented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2019, 9-13 December 2019, San Francisco, California

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PO-6A20-75558


  • electric power sector
  • electricity planning
  • ReEDS
  • Regional Energy Deployment System
  • thermal cooling
  • water resources


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