event 04 May 2018

Thirsty Energy Case Study // Modeling the Water-Energy Nexus in China

By Diego Juan Rodriguez, Morgan Bazilian, Anna Delgado Martin and Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm. China is increasingly aware of the complex interdependencies between water and energy. China’s rapid economic development has been accompanied by a similar rapid increase in energy supply and demand, which is dominated by coal, resulting in significant air pollution and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In addition, the coal energy supply chain is water-intensive—from mining and washing the coal to cooling power plants. The water-energy nexus challenge is further complicated by the fact that the majority of the planned new energy projects are located in the four northern energy bases of China. Although these energy bases have significant energy resources, they are among the most water-stressed areas of the country.

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(C) Denys Nevozhai / Unsplash

To mitigate its water issues, the government of China enacted several policies with targets on water use, water efficiency for industry (including energy) and agriculture, and water quality improvements on a national and regional scale for 2015, 2020, and 2030. These policies are known as the 3 Red Lines water policies. Although all of these policies affect the energy sector, the government further added a “water allocation plan for the development of coal bases” to reduce water usage, improve water efficiency, and reduce wastewater discharges in the coal sector. This part of the policy also requires future large-scale coal projects in water-scarce regions to be developed in partnership with local water authorities and requires mostly all new coal-fired power plants built in the northern China region to use dry cooling systems and encourages other regions to do so. At the same time existing smaller and less efficient coal-fired plants are to be upgraded or phased out in favor of larger and more efficient facilities.

To better assess the water-energy nexus challenge in China, the Thirsty Energy initiative engaged the China Institute for Water Resources (IWHR) and Hydropower Research under the auspices of the Ministry of Water Resources and the Institute of Energy, Environment, and Economy of Tsinghua University (TU) to establish a new multiregional, water-smart energy system planning model: TIMES-ChinaW (described in chapter 6). Chapter 2 of this report provides an overview of the water-energy nexus in China, and the current water and energy picture in China are described in chapters 3 and 4. Chapter 5 describes the methodology and approach for preparing the water supply cost curves and integrating that information into the TIMES-ChinaW model. Chapter 7 explores China’s future water-energy nexus using the abovementioned model and summarizes the main findings for specific water, energy, economic, and environmental impacts that resulted from the examined energy and environmental policies. Chapter 8 explains the limitation of the methodology and the analysis and Chapter 9 draws conclusions on main findings in China and mentions next steps for consideration to continue advancing this increasingly critical aspect of sustainable planning.


  • Summary
    • Context
    • Approach
    • Methodological Observations
  • Chapter 2 Why Consider the Water-Energy Nexus in China?
  • Chapter 3 Water in China
    • Water Resources in China
    • Water Supply in China
    • Water Demand in China
    • Water for the Energy Bases
    • Water Withdrawal for the Energy Industry
    • Water Withdrawal for Power Generation
  • Chapter 4 Energy in China
    • Regional Resources
    • Regional Resource Supply
    • Power Plants
    • Coal Chemical
  • Chapter 5 Water Modeling
    • Methodology
    • Regional Water Resources
    • Water in the Eastern Inner Mongolia Energy Base
    • WSCC for the Energy Bases
    • Water Supply Cost Curves under Climate Change
  • Chapter 6 Energy Modeling
    • Regional Consideration
    • Water Representation in the TIMES-ChinaW Model
  • Chapter 7 Exploration of China’s Future Water-Energy Nexus
    • Base and Reference Scenarios
    • Examining the Effects of Alternative Policies and Climate Change
    • Effect of Water Cost and Once-Through Cooling Policy
    • Effect of Water Cost and Carbon Dioxide Policy
    • Coal Reduction Policies
    • Effect of Climate Change on Water Supply and Thereby the Energy System
    • Reference versus All Policies: Effect of Water Supply Cost
    • Core Policies: Effect of Water Supply Cost and Carbon Dioxide Policy
    • Coal Peak versus Carbon Dioxide Policy
    • Non-Fossil Plan versus Non-Fossil Policy
    • All Policies: Effect of Climate Change
  • Chapter 8 Methodology Observations and Limitations of the Initial Analysis
  • Chapter 9 Conclusion
    • Case Study Findings
    • Next Steps
  • Appendix A Water Model
    • Model Description
    • Assumptions
    • Analytical Method for Water Supply in Energy Bases
    • Analytical Method of Temporal-Spatial Changing of Water Resources Quantity in Energy Bases
    • Regional Water Resources Quantity under Climate Change Scenario
  • Appendix B Energy Model
    • Model Description
    • Assumptions
  • Appendix C Energy in China
    • Coal, Oil, and Gas Supply: Base Year
    • Installed Power Plants Capacity and Cooling Requirements
    • Coal, Oil, and Gas Potential
    • Hydro Potential
    • Wind Potential
    • Solar Potential
    • Costs
    • Coal Chemical Industry
    • Water Factors for Power Generation
    • Water Factors for Other Energy-Related Activities


World Bank document repository website


March 2018


This publication is part of the World Bank's thirsty energy initiative.

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