Marginal costs of water savings from cooling system retrofits: a case study for Texas power plants
The water demands of power plant cooling systems may strain water supply and make power generation vulnerable to water scarcity. Cooling systems range in their rates of water use, capital investment, and annual costs. Using Texas as a case study, we examined the cost of retrofitting existing coal and natural gas combined-cycle (NGCC) power plants with alternative cooling systems, either wet recirculating towers or air-cooled condensers for dry cooling. We applied a power plant assessment tool to model existing power plants in terms of their key plant attributes and site-specific meteorological conditions and then estimated operation characteristics of retrofitted plants and retrofit costs. We determined the anticipated annual reductions in water withdrawals and the cost-per-gallon of water saved by retrofits in both deterministic and probabilistic forms. The results demonstrate that replacing once-through cooling at coal-fired power plants with wet recirculating towers has the lowest cost per reduced water withdrawals, on average. The average marginal cost of water withdrawal savings for dry-cooling retrofits at coal-fired plants is approximately 0.68 cents per gallon, while the marginal recirculating retrofit cost is 0.008 cents per gallon. For NGCC plants, the average marginal costs of water withdrawal savings for dry-cooling and recirculating towers are 1.78 and 0.037 cents per gallon, respectively.