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China’s coal industry stretches water resources

World Coal,

A new report from the World Resources Institute (WRI) shows that more than half of China’s proposed coal-fired power plants are planned for areas of high or extremely high water stress. As of July 2012, China’s government planned 363 coal-fired power plants for construction across China, with a combined generating capacity exceeding 557 GW (installed capacity at the end of 2012 was 758 GW).

Using WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas, the study overlaid the locations of proposed coal plants onto its water stress maps for China. It found that 51% of China’s new coal-fired power plants would be built in areas of high or extremely high water stress.

According to the report’s authors, this finding could have a big impact on developing coal-related industries in these areas because such activities – mining production, coal-to-chemical and power generation – are extremely water-intensive. The report claims that if all of the proposed plants are built, the coal industry could withdraw as much as 10 billion m3/year of water by 2015 – more than quarter of the water available for withdrawal every year from the Yellow River.

The report also found that 60% of the total proposed generating capacity is concentrated in six provinces. Those provinces, however, only account for 5% of China’s total water resources. In those six provinces, competition for water between domestic, agricultural, and industrial users is already high.

The Chinese government has already outlined three national goals for water, called the Three Red Lines. These lines aim to cap annual maximum water use at 700 billion m3/year, increase irrigation use efficiency to 60% by 2030 and protect water quality to maximise sustainable development. But according to the WRI, to meet these targets, the country will need to slow down coal development and introduce a combination of significant water saving and efficiency programmes into the coal industry.

Edited from various sources by Jonathan Rowland

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