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Juggling resources:Without urgent action, water will become a choke point for India’s power sector, says WRI India’s CEO.  

India’s thermal power plants, about 90% of which rely on fresh water for cooling, risk facing serious outages because of shortage of water, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Between 2013 and 2016, 14 of India’s 20 largest thermal utility companies experienced one or more shutdowns due to water shortages, the WRI said, and calculated that this cost the power producers more than Rs. 91 billion ($1.4 billion) in potential revenue from the sale of power.

‘Lost generation’

“India lost about 14 terawatt-hours of thermal power generation due to water shortages in 2016, cancelling out more than 20% of growth in the country’s total electricity generation from 2015,” the report’s authors wrote. About 40% of the country’s thermal power plants are facing great stress in terms of water availability, according to the report, defines water stress as the ratio of total water withdrawal over available supply. According to the report, not only does high water stress result in equipment shutting down, it also results in a lower level of efficiency when it is running.

“Water shortages shut down power plants across India every year,” O.P. Agarwal, CEO of WRI India, said in a release. “When power plants rely on water sourced from scarce regions, they put electricity generation at risk and leave less water for cities, farms and families. Without urgent action, water will become a choke point for India’s power sector.”

“Freshwater-cooled thermal power plants that are located in high water-stress areas have a 21% lower average capacity factor, compared to the ones in low and medium water-stress areas.” the WRI said.

The WRI’s report predicts that this problem is set to worsen as India’s thermal power sector expands and demand for water from other sectors increases. It says that by 2030, 70% of India’s thermal power plants are likely to experience increased competition for water from agriculture, industry and municipalities.

Significantly, the study found that water stress often occurs in places with abundant water supplies.

“Some of the most disruptive water shortages occurred in India’s most water-abundant areas,” the WRI report’s authors said.

“We also found that, even in water-abundant or low water-stress regions, thermal plants can still face water shortage-related risks during droughts or when monsoons are delayed. Some of those plants — for example, Farakka, Raichur, and Tiroda — experienced significant, if not the biggest, disruptions in generation caused by water shortages.”

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