The Water Footprint of Coal Plants, as Documented by Greenpeace

A coal plant uses an Olympic-sized pool worth of water every three and a half minutes

Environmental group Greenpeace is not a big fan of coal power. As it turns out, this is not just because this dirty energy source causes lots of pollution and contributes to climate change and global warming, but also because the coal power industry has a tremendous water footprint.

On its website, the organization details that, according to information at hand, the average coal plant goes through an Olympic-sized swimming pool worth of water once every three and a half minutes.

This is the reason why, presently, the coal power industry accounts for about 8% of the overall water demand documented on a global scale, the organization further details.

According to Greenpeace, coal-fired plants work by burning said fuel in order to turn water into high-pressure steam. This steam is then used to set turbines in motion and keep them up and running.

What's more, such facilities use water to clean and process the coal before setting it on fire, to get rid of coal ash, and also to keep their coal stockpile from releasing lots of dust.

The organization says that, too often, contaminated water originating from coal power plants that are now operational across the world works its way into the environment. This threatens not just the wellbeing of natural ecosystems, but also public health. Besides, the coal industry can foster water scarcity.

“What it doesn't consume it spits out as millions of tons of pollutants into our fresh-water rivers, lakes and streams. We are seeing the effects of this in the US, where tens of thousands of tons of coal ash spilled from a Duke Energy facility into a North Carolina river,” Greenpeace writes.

“In addition, acidic water drainage from old mines can make entire water supplies unfit for people, decades after closure. At the same time, coal burning is a major contributor to climate change, which in itself will further dry up our shallow water supply,” the environmentalists further argue.

Greenpeace maintains that, although such news seldom makes headlines, energy-water conflicts are already an issue in many parts of the world. Specifically, the organization claims that a coal chemical project in China's Inner Mongolia has already used so much water that the local water table is now 100 meters (328 feet) lower. Besides, a local lake has shrunk by as much as 62%.

To make matters even worse, it would appear that 79% of the new energy capacity set to be added in India in the near future, most of which will come from coal, is going to be set up in regions that are already affected by water scarcity. The way the organization sees things, this will surely affect the livelihoods of local communities.

“Energy-water conflicts are avoidable. With energy, we have a choice. Unlike coal, wind and solar energy consumes little water and according to studies may be the most water-efficient form of generating electricity,” Greenpeace argues.

“As we watch our precious desert reservoir become more polluted and shallow, now is the time to limit the greedy water consumption by the coal industry by shifting to more water-efficient, renewable energies everywhere,” it further stresses.

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