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The Vulnerability of Existing and Planned Asian Coal-Fired Power Plants to Changes in Climate and Water Resources

Dr. Yaoping Wang
Assistant Professor
Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment
University of Tennessee


Coal power generation dominates electricity supply in Asia and can require substantial amounts of water. Despite regional challenges associated with water scarcity, about 489 GW of coal-fired power plants are planned for operation before 2030 in Asia. We investigated the vulnerability of existing and planned coal-fired power plants in Asia to hydrological changes under 1.5oC, 2oC, and 3oC scenarios of climate change. We simulated the streamflow and water temperature using a high-resolution hydrological model (PCR-GLOBWB 2), and modeled plant-level water withdrawal for various cases of capacity expansion and cooling system choice. We found that hydrological changes due to climate change can reduce the usable capacity factors (UFs) of coal-fired power plants in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, etc.) and southeastern China by 0-13%, and increase the UFs elsewhere in Asia by 0-12%. The addition of planned coal-fired power plants, with or without retirements from the existing plants, will decrease the UFs by around 74% in Mongolia, 12-18% in Vietnam, and 5-40% in parts of China and India. Wider use of wet cooling towers and dry cooling can considerably increase the usable capacity factors. But the energy penalty for dry cooling is high in Southeast and South Asia (about 10% loss in thermal efficiency due to the high temperatures), which may impede the deployment of dry cooling. Our results suggest that moving towards non-thermal power generation that have low water requirements would lessen the water constraints on electricity generation, and increase the reliability of electricity supply in Asia.


Yaoping Wang is a research assistant professor in the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment at University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her research involves the assessment of climate change impacts on energy, water, and food systems, detection and attribution of climate change, and life cycle assessment for understanding and improving the sustainability and efficiency of energy systems. She received her MSc and PhD in Environmental Science from the Ohio State University, and BSc in Environmental Science from Beijing Normal University.