Did You Know: Coal Plants Pollute Air And Drink Up YOUR Water

Coal plant water

Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

Coal plants, apart from being one of the biggest sources of air pollution, consume one of our most precious resources – WATER. According to a report in The Guardian, coal plants consume the same amount of water as consumed by a billion people, and it is predicted to double up within the year [1].

Imagine if coal plants didn’t drink up all this water, it could have been used for nearly 14 percent of the world’s population! The research carried on World Water Day shows that around 44 percent of the existing coal plants are located in water-stressed areas [2]. Also, 45 percent of the ‘planned’ plants are in areas where water is a problem. Around 8359 coal power plants, both existing and planned, were included in the research and the water that was taken into account was used for both producing electricity as well as mining.

World Water Stress Map

Image Source: Greenpeace

Around 25 percent of the new plants proposed are in areas where freshwater is highly deficit and Greenpeace has labelled them on a ‘red list’ (the red zones being 40 to 100 percent water stressed). India ranks second in this list while China takes the first place. Both the energy hungry nations are in dire need of power and water. Earlier in 2012, the International Energy Agency had predicted that water used for generating electricity would increase by 85 percent within 25 years, from 2010. Strangely, this report had pointed out that water usage would increase, even as plants would release less carbon dioxide through the night. This is ironic, as better efficiency would reduce air pollution but consume more water – which will be another problem.

According to Greenpeace, coal power plants that are older than 40 years should be shut down, as they are lowest in efficiency. Also, those that make it to the ‘red list’ should not undergo expansion. Instead, coal power plants should be replaced, especially in such areas, with renewable energy such as solar and wind.

According to Iris Cheng of Greenpeace, “Governments must recognise that replacing coal with renewable energy will not only help them deliver on their climate agreements, but also deliver huge water savings,” and “It’s more urgent than ever that we move towards a 100 percent renewable future.”

Considering the recent drought crisis in parts of India, it is important that dependence on coal be reduced sooner. In the state of Maharashtra, water had to be transported by trains to severely deficit places. If efficient coal plant technologies are going to increase water consumption, then it is not worth implementing even if it reduces air pollution. To counter both air and water problems, replacing coal with solar and wind energies is essential.


[1] – The Guardian March 22nd, 2016

[2] – ‘The Great Water Grab’ – Greenpeace – March 22nd, 2016.

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