Policy interactions between water and electricity sectors in China

Energy policies aimed at improving water management at coal power plants

Policies in the electric power sector can generate either direct or indirect impacts on water resources. Sanders (2015) identified five aspects of the power sector that have impacts on water resources: (1) fuel mix; (2) cooling technology configuration; (3) relevant regulations; (4) changing climate; and (5) power grid characteristics, including transmission and so on. Policies that result in impacts on any one of those five aspects could affect the power sector’s total water uses. Webster, Donohoo and Pahnintier (2013) found that a restriction on CO, emissions in the energy sector in Texas also reduces water withdrawal by its power sector; Bartos and Chester (2014) have shown that Arizona’s Energy Efficiency Mandate and Renewable Portfolio Standard have resulted in considerable water savings. China has issued a series of policies directly aimed at improving water performance at coal power plants, including (1) setting requirements on the maximum water withdrawal intensities for coal power plants; (2) banning groundwater usage in water-scarce regions, particularly in groundwater over-exploited regions; (3) forcing the deployment of air-cooling technologies; (4) encouraging the utilization of other unconventional water sources, including reclaimed water from municipal wastewater, coal mine drainage and so forth.

There are various mandatory water withdrawal standards for coal power plants. At a national level, a new national water withdrawal standard (GB/T 18916.1-2012) replaced ‘GB/T 18916.1-2002' in 2012 and set more stringent requirements regarding water uses by coal power plants with closed-loop cooling systems (General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China, 2002, 2012). It is noteworthy that air-cooling units are not included in the national standard, while it is regulated in some regions, as shown in Table 8.1. It should be noted that: (1) Regulations on water uses by power plants equipped with air-cooling

Table S. 1 Provincial coal power plants’ water use standards in China

Province

year

Unit (in1/ MWh if not noted)

Standard

Capacity (MW)

Cooling system

Reference

Hunan*

2008

5

<300

closed-loop

GB/T18916.1-

2002

4

>300

130

<300

open-loop

120

>300

Liaoning

2008

1

<300

open-loop

0.65

>300

1.2

<300

air

0.8

>300

Hebei

2009

m’/MWh

3

<300

closed-loop

GB/T18916.1-

2002

2.39

>300

2.15

>600

1.2

<300

open-loop

0.72

>300

1.2

<300

air

0.96

>300

0.86

>600

m’/S'GW

1

<300

closed-loop

GB/T18916.1-

2002

0.8

>300

0.75

>600

0.2

<300

open-loop

0.12

>300

0.3

<300

air

0.2

>300

0.16

>600

Inner

Mongolia

2009

m’/MWh

4.8

<300

closed-loop

GB/T18916.1-

2002

3.84

>300

1.2

<300

open-loop

0.72

>300

0.8

air

m’/S'GW

1

<300

closed-loop

GB/T18916.1-

2002

0.8

>300

0.2

<300

open-loop

0.12

>300

0.18

air

Qingliai

2009

m’/MWh

4.8

<300

closed-loop

GB/T18916.1-

2002

3.84

>300

1.2

<300

open-loop

0.72

>300

Province

year

Unit (m3/ MWh if not noted/

Standard

Capacity (MW)

Cooling system

Reference

mVS*GW

1

<300

closed-loop

GB T18916.1-

2002

0.8

>300

0.2

<300

open-loop

0.12

>300

Henan

2009

4.8

<300

closed-loop

GB T18916.1-

2002

Jilin

2009

3.84

>300

Sichuan

2010

1.2

<300

open-loop

Gansu

2011

0.72

>300

Shandong

2009

3

<300

closed-loop

2.5

>300

1

<150

open-loop seawater

0.7

>150

0.5

>300

Shaanxi

2010

1.2

>300

air

1.5

<300

4

>300

closed-loop

5

<300

Guizhou

2011

4.2

<150

3.6

>150

2.9

>300

2.8

>600

2.7

>1000

Jiangxi*

2011

120

<600

open-loop

100

>600

4.8

<300

closed-loop

3.84

>300

Anhui*

2013

60-70

>300

open-loop

100-110

<300

3.2

<300

closed-loop

GB T18916.1-

2012

2.75

>300

2.4

>600

Yunnan

2013

3.2

<300

closed-loop

2.75

>300

2.4

>600

0.79

<300

open-loop

0.54

>300

0.46

>600

0.95

<300

air

0.63

>300

0.53

>600

Note: ’denotes the provinces where water withdrawal of open-loop cooling systems is controlled instead of water consumption as in other provinces.

systems are mostly in place in the north, including Liaoning. Hebei, Inner Mongolia and Shandong; (2) provincial standards formulated later are more stringent as they conform to the more recent national standard; (3) two sets of standards - m’/MWh and m3/S*GW - existed in earlier regulations (Hebei, Qinghai and Inner Mongolia), which were designed for assessments for operation and commission respectively, as m’/MWh is generally more stringent. Later on, only m’/MWh is adopted.

There are also restrictions on groundwater usage and air-cooling deployment. In water-scarce areas, new coal power plants are not allowed to extract groundwater, especially in groundwater over-exploited regions since 2004 (National Development and Reform Commission, 2004). Although air-cooling units are not included in the national water withdrawal standards, NDRC (2004) required new coal power plants in water-scarce northern regions to employ large air-cooling units with water withdrawal intensities of less than 0.18 m3/(s GW). The Ministry of Water Resources (MWR) also issued a similar requirement in 2013 (MWR, 2013), which required new coal power plants in water-stressed areas to deploy air-cooling systems with water withdrawal intensities lower than 0.1 m3/(s GW). The MWR requirement is stricter than the NDRC requirement and even stricter than the national water withdrawal standard issued later that year that sets the water withdrawal limit for air-cooled units larger than 500 MW at 0.13 m3/ (s GW). As a result, new power plants equipped with air-cooling systems need much less time to obtain environmental permits and thus have proliferated during the last decade. Nationally, the percentage of air-cooling systems has increased from 6.4% in 2000 to 14.5% in 2015 while that of wet cooling systems, including both closed-loop and open-loop cooling, has decreased accordingly.

Coal power plants are encouraged to use unconventional water resources. China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) was supposed to develop 14 coal bases, which are all located in the northern dry regions. In response to such planning, MWR issued ‘Regulations on implementing water resources evaluation for the planning and development of large coal power industrial clusters’ in 2013, requiring newly constructed coal power plants in northern China to prioritize reclaimed water and coal mine drainage. For example, in the water-stressed Yellow River Basin, Ministry of Water Resources allocated 417.6 million m3 of water withdrawal quotas for 84 GW of newly added coal power plants from November 2009 to December 2014, among which 58.3% (243.2 million m3) are reclaimed water (Zhang et al., 2014). In the country’s second-largest coal producer Shanxi province, it is required that the coal mine drainage recycling rate should be increased from the current 67.7% to 75%.

Other governmental agencies have also issued technical guidelines to promote water-saving practices in coal power plants. Those official but nonmandatory guidelines for promoting water-saving practices in the coal power sector include (1) ’Guidelines for water saving in thermal power plants’ issued by the State Economic and Trade Committee (2001), (2) ‘China water conservation technology policy outline' jointly issued by NDRC and several other relevant ministries in 2005, and (3) ’Water efficiency guide for key industrial sectors’jointly issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and several other relevant ministries in 2013.

 
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