Methods for estimating water consumption for thermoelectric power plants in the United States

Scientific Investigations Report 2013-5188

USGS National Water Census and National Streamflow Information Program
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DOI: 10.3133/sir20135188



Water consumption at thermoelectric power plants represents a small but substantial share of total water consumption in the U.S. However, currently available thermoelectric water consumption data are inconsistent and incomplete, and coefficients used to estimate consumption are contradictory. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has resumed the estimation of thermoelectric water consumption, last done in 1995, based on the use of linked heat and water budgets to complement reported water consumption. This report presents the methods used to estimate freshwater consumption at a study set of 1,284 power plants based on 2010 plant characteristics and operations data.

Power plants were categorized for estimation of water consumption in two tiers. First, generating units were assigned to categories based on the technology used to generate electricity. These generation-type categories are combustion steam, combined-cycle, nuclear, geothermal, and solar thermal. Second, cooling systems were separately categorized as either wet cooling towers or surface-water cooling systems, and the surface-water cooling systems were subcategorized as cooling ponds, lakes, and rivers.

Heat budgets were constructed for the first four generation-type categories; data at solar thermal plants were insufficient for heat budgets. These heat budgets yielded estimates of the amount of heat transferred to the condenser. The ratio of evaporation to the heat discharged through the condenser was estimated using existing heat balance models that are sensitive to environmental data; this feature allows estimation of consumption under different climatic conditions. These two estimates were multiplied to yield an estimate of consumption at each power plant.

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USGS Numbered Series
Methods for estimating water consumption for thermoelectric power plants in the United States
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Tennessee Water Science Center
Report: vii, 78 p.; Appendix 4
United States
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