China, India Short on Water for More Coal Plants

China and India are already bumping against their resource limits – they don’t have enough water to cool all the coal-fired power plants they want to build.

"They have not introduced a water constraint on their model and assume the water is there. So my view is that they actually will not be able to build as many coal plants as the projections suggest," said Peter Evans, General Electric’s director of global strategy and planning at a seminar, reports Bloomberg.

That’s a good thing, because under it’s current energy policy, China’s demand for coal will rise a mind-numbing 70% (to 3.71 billion metric tons) and India’s demand will rise 188% (to 1.15 billion tons) from 2009-2035, according to International Energy Agency’s 2011 Outlook.

According to General Electric, in 2025, China’s water consumption for power generation will grow from 141 billion gallons in 2011 to 250 billion gallons in 2025.

79% of India’s new coal plants are planned in areas of limited water, according to the World Resources institute.

That means these countries will have to rely more on more expensive dry-cooled coal plants, natural gas, solar and wind.

China’s natural gas demand is forecast to increase more than five-fold, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) 2011 World Energy Outlook, but that too won’t work.

Adopting shale gas on a widespread basis would put carbon emissions at about 650 parts per million, a rise of 3.5°C, says the IEA, which is well above the widely accepted 2°C target, and leads to out-of-control climate change.

IEA’s executive directory, Nobuo Tanaka, says: "While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels such as renewables and nuclear, particularly in the wake of Fukushima. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change."

In its latest report, The Golden Age of Gas, the IEA projects that unconventional gas, such as fracking, will triple by 2035, and the resulting drop in gas prices, it warns, will stop renewable energy in its tracks if governments don’t take action.

"Renewable energy may be the victim of cheap gas prices if governments do not stick to their renewable support schemes," says Fatih Birol, IEA’s chief economist.

Meanwhile, in a victory for the industry, the EU is calling natural gas "green energy" and including it as a low-carbon energy source in Horizon 2020, its €80 billion research and innovation program that runs from 2014-2020. The funds are earmarked for addressing major concerns like making renewables more affordable and addressing climate change, but now some of that could subsidize the fossil fuel industry.

While conventional natural gas is cleaner than coal, gas derived from shale and fracking are not, because the industry refuses to capture the vented methane from operations.

Others believe low natural gas prices will negatively impact renewable energy in the short term, but not over the longer term. Natural gas prices will rise from a combination of increased regulation, long-term underperformance of production wells, and higher-priced drilling leases. And as it’s increasingly used to replace coal, to run vehicles and for export, prices will rise.

"Read IEA’s Report, Golden Age of Gas:

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