Operational Water Consumption and Withdrawal Factors for Electricity Generating Technologies: A Review of Existing Literature

J. Macknick, R. Newmark, G. Heath, K. C. Hallett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

473 Scopus Citations


This report provides estimates of operational water withdrawal and water consumption factors for electricity generating technologies in the United States. Estimates of water factors were collected from published primary literature and were not modified except for unit conversions. The water factors presented may be useful in modeling and policy analyses where reliable power plant level data are not available. Major findings of the report include: water withdrawal and consumption factors vary greatly across and within fuel technologies, and water factors show greater agreement when organized according to cooling technologies as opposed to fuel technologies; a transition to a less carbon-intensive electricity sector could result in either an increase or a decrease in water use, depending on the choice of technologies and cooling systems employed; concentrating solar power technologies and coal facilities with carbon capture and sequestration capabilities have the highest water consumption values when using a recirculating cooling system; and non-thermal renewables, such as photovoltaics and wind, have the lowest water consumption factors. Improved power plant data and further studies into the water requirements of energy technologies in different climatic regions would facilitate greater resolution in analyses of water impacts of future energy and economic scenarios. This report provides the foundation for conducting water use impact assessments of the power sector while also identifying gaps in data that could guide future research.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number045802
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A20-56244


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