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Estimating Future Virtual Water Trading within the U.S. Electricity Grid

Presentation Date
Thursday, December 10, 2020 at 4:00am



Thermoelectric power plants require local water resources for cooling. However, the electricity generated within one grid may be transmitted to another which results in water moving through the electricity gird virtually. The virtual transfer of water allows for regions with access to sufficient blue water or seawater to generate and transfer electricity to those regions without ample water supply. Here we investigate, for the first time, the future evolution of the virtual water consumption and withdrawals embedded in the generation and transmission of electrical power throughout the U.S. electricity grids and between states under a suite of socioeconomic and climate futures. Using a global multisector model with state-level details in the U.S., we find that under business-as-usual assumptions, the quantity of future virtual water trading is dependent upon the evolution of fuel mixes, particularly the retirement of water intensive once-through cooling systems and coal-fired thermoelectric power plants.

Funding Program Area(s)