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Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5188

USGS National Water Census and National Streamflow Information Program

Methods for Estimating Water Consumption for Thermoelectric Power Plants in the United States

By Timothy H. Diehl, Melissa A. Harris, Jennifer C. Murphy, Susan S. Hutson, and David E. Ladd

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (7.30 MB)Abstract

Water consumption at thermoelectric power plants represents a small but substantial share of total water consumption in the U.S. However, currently available thermoelectric water consumption data are inconsistent and incomplete, and coefficients used to estimate consumption are contradictory. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has resumed the estimation of thermoelectric water consumption, last done in 1995, based on the use of linked heat and water budgets to complement reported water consumption. This report presents the methods used to estimate freshwater consumption at a study set of 1,284 power plants based on 2010 plant characteristics and operations data.

Power plants were categorized for estimation of water consumption in two tiers. First, generating units were assigned to categories based on the technology used to generate electricity. These generation-type categories are combustion steam, combined-cycle, nuclear, geothermal, and solar thermal. Second, cooling systems were separately categorized as either wet cooling towers or surface-water cooling systems, and the surface-water cooling systems were subcategorized as cooling ponds, lakes, and rivers.

Heat budgets were constructed for the first four generation-type categories; data at solar thermal plants were insufficient for heat budgets. These heat budgets yielded estimates of the amount of heat transferred to the condenser. The ratio of evaporation to the heat discharged through the condenser was estimated using existing heat balance models that are sensitive to environmental data; this feature allows estimation of consumption under different climatic conditions. These two estimates were multiplied to yield an estimate of consumption at each power plant.

First posted November 22, 2013

Revised November 6, 2014

For additional information, contact:
Coordinator, National Water Census
U.S. Geological Survey
3450 Princeton Pike, Suite 110
Lawrenceville, NJ 08648

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Suggested citation:

Diehl, T.H., Harris, M.A., Murphy, J.C., Hutson, S.S., and Ladd, D.E., 2013, Methods for estimating water consumption for thermoelectric power plants in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5188, 78 p.,

ISSN 2328-031X (print)

ISSN 2328-0328 (online)




A Heat Budget Approach to Thermoelectric Water Consumption

Data Compilation and Quality Assurance

Computing Heat and Water Budgets

Other Types of Water Consumption



Selected References


Appendix 1: The 1,284 thermoelectric plants one megawatt nameplate capacity or greater with water-cooling systems in the United States, 2010

Appendix 2: Guide to data contained in the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2010 Annual Electric Generator Data, Form-860, and the 2010 Power Plant Operations Report, Form EIA-923, used for the classification of thermoelectric plants and consumption estimation model input

Appendix 2. Table 1: Data used in the two-tiered classification system for thermoelectric plants and heat and water budget models to estimate water consumption from the 2010 Annual Electric Generator Data, EIA Form-860 and 2010 Power Plant Operations Report, Form EIA-923

Appendix 2. Table 2: Prime mover types used to classify plants according to generation type

Appendix 2. Table 3: Energy sources used to classify plants by generation type

Appendix 2. Table 4: Cooling-sytem types used to classify plants by cooling system technology

Appendix 3: Databases accessed for thermoelectric plant classification and modeling data

Appendix 4: Forced Evaporation from Water Surface (FEWS) spreadsheet

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