Hydropower and thermoelectric power make up 98 percent of the world’s electricity generation. These two most common forms of power are also the most water-intensive, which makes them extremely vulnerable to drought, competition over water resources and other water shortages.
Hydropower’s dependency on ample water resources is clear. Dams convert falling water—mechanical energy— into electrical energy. Without water, there is no energy source to convert. Such is the case during Kenya’s drought.
The water intensity of thermal power plants, however, is not immediately obvious. Thermal power plants use fuel to create heat, which is then converted to electrical energy. These plants whether fueled by coal, natural gas, nuclear energy or even solar thermal electric energy—often require water to cool down plants’ high temperatures. A water shortage—or water with too high of a temperature—can impede this process.
Water is also integral to a plant’s core functioning, since heating water into steam powers the turbines of most thermal power plants. Many thermal power plants are located next to bodies of water, so that they can easily withdraw what they need. When water supply is interrupted, a plant could suffer generation disruptions, or even shut down completely.
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