U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Impact of Renewable Energy on Thermoelectric Cooling Water Use
Published: March 24, 2014
Posted: March 27, 2014

Water use and energy production are intrinsically linked, as thermoelectric cooling uses large quantities of water, often withdrawn from rivers and lakes. Water withdrawn for use in energy production makes up nearly half of all water withdrawals in the United States. Department of Energy researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change have developed a modeling tool to assess changes in water use with changes in the mix of renewable energy production. The model, called WiCTS (Withdrawal and Consumption for Thermoelectric Systems), estimates the amount of water used by a variety of electricity generation technologies at the regional level. Researchers used WiCTS in a case study to evaluate changes in future water use caused by increased use of renewable technologies, such as wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear. They found that at the national level, as the proportion of renewables in the electricity mix increases, water withdrawals decrease. At the state level, WiCTS’ ability to provide regional results reveals a more complex picture of future water use. Decreases in water withdrawals are concentrated in water-rich areas. Water-stressed areas, on the other hand, are more likely to see water withdrawals and consumption increase as the result of a switch to renewables. Coastal areas that rely on withdrawals of salt water for cooling will see an overall decrease in water withdrawals, but will see an increase in their fresh water withdrawals. These results suggest that in some regions, the use of dry cooling technologies, though more expensive, may be beneficial in limiting water scarcity.

Reference: Baker, J., K. Strzepek, W. Farmer, and A. Schlosser. 2014. “Quantifying the Impact of Renewable Energy Futures on Cooling Water Use,” Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 50(5):1289–1303, DOI: 10.1111/jawr.12188.

Contact: Bob Vallario, SC 23.1, (301) 903-5758
Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Multisector Dynamics (formerly Integrated Assessment)

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

May 10, 2019
Quantifying Decision Uncertainty in Water Management via a Coupled Agent-Based Model
Considering risk perception can improve the representation of human decision-making processes in age [more...]

May 09, 2019
Projecting Global Urban Area Growth Through 2100 Based on Historical Time Series Data and Future Scenarios
Study provides country-specific urban area growth models and the first dataset on country-level urba [more...]

May 05, 2019
Calibrating Building Energy Demand Models to Refine Long-Term Energy Planning
A new, flexible calibration approach improved model accuracy in capturing year-to-year changes in bu [more...]

May 03, 2019
Calibration and Uncertainty Analysis of Demeter for Better Downscaling of Global Land Use and Land Cover Projections
Researchers improved the Demeter model’s performance by calibrating key parameters and establi [more...]

Apr 22, 2019
Representation of U.S. Warm Temperature Extremes in Global Climate Model Ensembles
Representation of warm temperature events varies considerably among global climate models, which has [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)