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Water for Energy Is a Waste

Power plants suck more water out of the nation’s watersheds than any other single user—more than 40 percent.
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Red-number-1.jpgAbout 90 percent of U.S. electricity comes from thermoelectric power: turning water into steam by burning coal, natural gas, or oil, or using the heat from nuclear reactions.

Red-number-2.jpgPower plants use steam to turn turbines, but they can’t use all the heat they produce. They need a steady supply of water to keep from overheating.

Red-number-3.jpgAlthough they eventually return most of it to the watershed, it’s usually warmer than it started. The warm water can kill fish and other wildlife, and often contains pollutants.

YESnumber_Red4.jpgThe big problem: If a region is running short of water, the choice is water for drinking and growing food—or water for electricity. 

YESnumber_Red5.jpgSo we need to move pretty quickly to ways of making electricity that don’t use steam to turn turbines. Wind turbines, for instance. Or photovoltaics.

Coal Power Plant on Lake Julian, photo by Bullet Miller
Coal plant illustration, by Tennessee Valley Authority


Ashlee GreenAshlee Green wrote this article for Water Solutions, the Summer 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Ashlee is an editorial assistant for YES! Magazine.


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