Monday, April 04, 2016

All was lost for want of ... water

I worry that I blog on way too many topics.  I worry because while I am a polymath wannabe, I am at best a dilettante.  There is, therefore, the nagging worry that it is only a matter of time before the world sniffs out this fake.  

But then, every once in a while something happens just enough to boost my ego.  It happened today too, which means I can rest easy for a while ;)

What happened today?  I read this in my favorite newspaper from the old country:
The Ganga that has nourished the Indian civilisation for centuries has recorded a historically low inflow in its lower reaches this year, going by the evidence on the ground. The inflow at the Farakka barrage in West Bengal nearly halved, compared with the quantum of water available in the last two years. The NTPC’s plant beside the barrage had to shut operations from March 10.
An NTPC plant shutting down?
Readings showed that the water level in the canal connecting the river to the plant was going down rapidly. Water is used to produce steam to run the turbines and for cooling vital equipment of coal-fired power stations.
By next day, authorities were forced to suspend generation at the 2,300-megawatt plant in Farakka town causing shortages in India's power grid. Next, the vast township on the river, where more than 1,000 families of plant workers live, ran out of water. Thousands of bottles of packaged drinking water were distributed to residents, and fire engines rushed to the river to extract water for cooking and cleaning.

What's the connection between a coal-fired power plant and water?  As the Union of Concerned Scientists put it in the context of the US:
Coal-fired power plants, which produce almost half of the country’s electricity, have significant impacts on water quantity and quality in the United States. Water is used to extract, wash, and sometimes transport the coal; to cool the steam used to make electricity in the power plant; and to control pollution from the plant.  The acts of mining and burning coal, as well as dealing with the waste, also can have major effects on water quality.
A lot of water is needed.  When there was no water, the NTPC's coal fired plant had to close down.

So, back to me.  After all, the blog posts are always about me ;)  Why do I feel like I am not that much a fake after all?

Back in April 2009--yes, seven years ago--the newspaper  published an op-ed of mine, in which I wrote about the importance of water in energy production.  I wrote there that water is a lot more to be worried about than CO2:
This is but another incentive for us to explore alternative energy sources that do not impose additional demands on water, which will then also mean lesser reliance on coal. Water-constrained countries such as China, India and Israel ought to encourage innovation on this urgent issue.
At the same time, we here in the United States have a wonderful opportunity to use our research and development infrastructure to develop feasible and economical approaches that will ease the pressure on water resources, and thereby help the world.
After all, to borrow a water metaphor, we sink or sail together!
Of course, my worry that I am a fake is a waste of my time; after all, nobody cares about what I think anyway! ;)


Ramesh said...

After your last post I had promptly forgotten who or what a dilettante is.

Most Indian rivers have been reduced to this - just dry river beds except for the rainy season. Even the mighty Ganga is getting there. The water crisis facing India (all projections show the city of Bangalore has to be evacuated in 20-30 years because of water shortage) is acute. Of course no action is being taken and we muddle through.

Not sure how much NTPC contributes to this, but I dare think the pressure of 1.2 billion people and the absolute lack of foresight in managing water is slowly boiling us to a catastrophe.

Anne in Salem said...

It is a rough decision - water or electricity.

How much less water do alternative energy sources use? NPR yesterday detailed the water necessary for cooling the equipment used to store solar energy for future use. One rarely hears of water use in such enterprises. Of course, this sounds like a mere fraction of that used for coal processing, but there must be other hidden consumptions of water with other alternative energies.

Sriram Khé said...

Years ago--was it in the summer of 2009, I wonder--when I visited Mysore, I took a day trip to the Somnathpur Temple, and then wanted to visit with the Kaveri River. I was shocked at how it was but a mere stream.
Any thinking person knew well about the demands on water even thirty and forty years ago. It is depressing how India's politicians and the voters alike have been so short-sighted and continue to be so :(

Even with respect to water, wind and solar will be awesome because of the small water-footprint. The faster the transition can happen, the better off we will be for so many reasons.

BTW, if you want to scare yourself even more, read the essay on the melting/receding glacier in the Himalayas, in the latest issue of the New Yorker. ( Water will certainly heighten the tensions between India and China in the coming years.