This paper aims to help decision-makers understand the magnitude of water issues for the thermal power sector in India with quantitative evidence. There is a significant data gap in power plant water use in India. The authors used data science techniques and innovative methodologies and developed a comprehensive plant-level geodatabase on water withdrawal and consumption for India’s thermal power sector, making a first-cut attempt to fill the data gap. Combined with information on power generation, water risks, and future projections of energy and water demand, this paper quantifies the Indian thermal power sector’s water demand, assesses its exposure to water stress, and evaluates opportunities for reducing water requirements while supporting power growth for the future.

Key Findings

  • 90 percent of India’s thermal power plants -- which provide the country with most of its electricity -- rely on freshwater for cooling.
  • 40 percent of the country’s thermal power plants experience high water stress. These plants have a 21 percent lower utilization rate than their counterparts located in low or medium water-stress regions.
  • Thanks to increased energy demand and the growing popularity of freshwater-recirculating plants, which consume the most water of any thermal plant, freshwater consumption from Indian thermal utilities grew by 43 percent from 2011-2016, from 1.5 to 2.1 billion cubic meters a year.
  • 70 percent of India’s thermal power plants will increased competition over water by 2030.
  • Between 2013 to 2016, 14 of India’s 20 largest thermal utility companies experienced one or more shutdowns due to water shortages. WRI calculates that shutdowns cost these companies over INR 91 billion ($1.4 billion) in potential revenue from the sale of power.
  • By 2030, nineteen out of the 20 companies are likely to see an average increase in water use competition between 3 percent and 28 percent across their portfolio of power plants.
  • 12.4 billion cubic meters of fresh water withdrawals could be reduced from India’s power sector needs if proposed cooling mandates were fully implemented and aggressive renewable targets completely achieved

Executive Summary

Please view report.