Wednesday May 16th, 2018

International workshop discusses the use of water in thermoelectric plants and their location in areas of water scarcity

On April 25 and 26, Instituto de Energia e Meio Ambiente (“Institute of Energy and Environment” – IEMA) and Instituto Brasileiro de Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (“Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources” – IBAMA) held the international workshop “Thermoelectricity in the new context of the electricity sector: the importance of an environmental impact assessment”. The agenda of the event covered the main regulatory and institutional challenges for the evaluation and management of impacts from this type of energy generation, a subject that has been studied by IEMA over the last 30 months.

“During this time, we developed an online platform, funded by iCS and the Mott Foundation (as was the workshop), to identify the geographic location of thermoelectric plants with generation potential above 100 megawatts (MW). We found out that many of them are located in areas of water stress and, therefore, an issue that needs to be addressed is the nature of a decision-making process that authorizes the construction of a type of plant that involves a high demand for water consumption in places where there is scarcity of water for human consumption, such as Ceará, for example. In Pecém, there is a plant that has become the second largest water consumer in the state”, explained Munir Soares of IEMA.

With the understanding that the electricity sector has a clear need to maintain and build thermoelectric plants to ensure energy supply – and that this decision makes sense from the perspective of the transition to a low carbon economy, due to the current high costs of wind and solar power – IEMA went on to investigate the reason why sector planning does not take into account a series of material social and environmental elements in this decision-making process.

In response, the scenario that IEMA found was one where the Ministry of Mines and Energy maintains that it is not responsible for defining the areas that are suitable for the construction of thermoelectric plants, while the National Water Agency simply ascertains the availability of water. In other words, with a concession, it becomes easy to obtain licensing to start the construction works and to operate the plant.

In order to try to dispel doubts and ensure that all players – such as civil society, the scientific community, the business sector and the public sector – are on the same page, the Workshop dealt with topics such as: I) the role of thermal electricity within the National Interconnected System (SIN); II) the current and future challenges associated with the environmental and territorial management of thermoelectric plants (UTEs); III) the integration of sectoral policies in light of the international experience; IV) and financing as a tool of socio-environmental project performance. On the second day, focusing on technological innovations, the debate revolved around the dry cooling of thermoelectric plants, using air instead of water.

Roberto Kishinami, the coordinator of the Energy portfolio of Instituto Clima e Sociedade, stressed the importance of the concrete actions discussed during the event. “Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (EPE) suggested a case study about the thermoelectric plants in Ceará, where there is an actual conflict between the use of water for human consumption and its use for power generation in those plants. This subject is very pertinent and, therefore, accurate research and analysis becomes so relevant”, he concluded.


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