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Towards A Water & Energy Secure China

15 April, 2015 – China Water Risk publishes report “TOWARDS A WATER & ENERGY SECURE CHINA – Tough choices ahead in power expansion with limited water resources”. The report explores strategies towards water and energy security in China as well as provides an overview of water risk exposure across China’s power landscape.

China Water Risk Towards A Water & Energy Secure China

China’s waterscape is changing. Water risks in China, be they physical, economic or regulatory, have great social-economic impacts and are well recognized, especially those in China’s water-energy nexus. Today, 93% of power generation in China is water-reliant. In short, no water = no power and vice versa as we require power to clean, transport and distribute water.

With 85% of China’s electricity consumption, industry faces a double whammy – direct exposure to water scarcity and pollution & indirect exposure through its use of water-reliant power. There are serious implications for business and investors.

Water also increasingly is interlinked with climate issues and divergent trends in water use and resources indicate a thirstier future. Against this backdrop, China is still hungry for thirsty power with plans to grow its economy as its population continues urbanise. Indeed, China’s per capita power generation installed capacity is still far below that of the G20 average. By 2020, China could add up to 2TW of installed capacity – this is more than the current total installed capacity of the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and Japan combined.

Can China manage this magnitude of power expansion with limited water resources?

To facilitate understanding of these challenges brought on by China’s changing waterscape, the report highlights key issues within China’s water energy nexus and summarises the multiple strategies that will have to be adopted simultaneously across a broad spectrum of sectors into a broad three-prong approach:

  1. Balancing power mix by considering trade-offs among water, energy and climate;
  2. Controlling water use in the agriculture, coal mining and coal-related sectors to ensure food and energy security; and
  3. Curbing energy demand as saving power means saving water.

China Water Risk - China's Water & Energy Roadmap

China’s power mix is already evolving. Water reliant power is expected to fall to 72% by 2050 with an aggressive add of wind & solar capacity, but China will still add +1.2TW of water-reliant power, equivalent to 4x the total installed capacity of Japan. That said, some types of power require more water to generate electricity than others but what is good for water may be bad for the climate.

Therefore, in addition to the “strategy-prongs”, water risk profiles of China’s power types are also detailed in separate chapters. The report provides an update on the work we did on water risks in power generation and coal in our collaborative reports with HSBC & CLSA respectively. In addition, there are in-depth chapters on water risks across hydropower, nuclear, wind and solar.  Planned and forecasted installed capacity across power types, water use in coal mining and power generation as well as water savings scenarios where relevant are all explored in the report. Other prevalent risks are also examined including geopolitical risks brought on by the tapping of transboundary rivers for hydropower; water contamination fears associated with inland nuclear expansion in the densely populated Yangtze River basin; and hidden little talked about toxic water risks brought on by aggressive expansion in wind and solar.

China Water Risk Water Risk Exposure Across China Power Landscape 550

There are no “silver bullets” in the water-energy-climate nexus. Tough choices lie ahead. Trade-offs between electricity generation, climate and water need to be examined holistically to secure water and energy in China.

We hope this report helps facilitate understanding of these challenges and their global consequences. With glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau shrinking 15% over the last three decades, the stakes are high. The future of China’s energy mix doesn’t just impact China; it has regional watershed implications and global climate ramifications.

Can China ensure water & energy security whilst keeping climate change in check and at the same time side-step transboundary conflict? It’s time to take a closer look.


Click here to access the full report. For an overview of the report – click here.

If you have any questions regarding the report or are working in this space please contact: [email protected]