The world’s 8,359 coal power plant units consume enough water each year to meet the basic needs of one billion people.
That’s the dramatic finding from a new analysis exploring the coal industry’s current and future water demand. It also found that if all the world’s planned new power stations are built, water use will almost double, causing widespread shortages.
World Health Organisation guidelines state that the average person needs a minimum of 50 litres per day for drinking, washing, cooking, personal and household hygiene – which works out as 18,275 m3 of water per year.
Times that by a billion, and you get 18.3 billion m3. That’s significantly less than the 19 billion m3 needed to keep the world’s existing coal plants going every – a calculation based on a plant by plant examination of coal’s water needs.
Around 650 million people across the globe do not have access to clean drinking water, according to WaterAid.
Researchers also found that coal accounts for around 7% of all water use globally, with that figure likely to double over the next 20 years as demand increases and new coal plants come online.
Assuming all the new coal plants around the world come online as expected with the current water-intensive cooling technology, water use could jump to 36 billion m3 a year, according to the research.
The report examined data on existing and proposed coal-fired power plants as of the end of 2013, with evidence sourced mainly from Platts World Electric Power Plant Database. The researchers also used the World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct water risk analysis model.