A comprehensive April 2015 200-page Report of China Water Risk, a Hong Kong-based think tank, examines in detail the dilemma a water-thirty China faces in responding to pressures from food, power, growth and climate change.
The quantum jump in China's potential power needs is breathtaking. According to the Report,
"At 0.87kW, China’s per capita power generation installed capacity is still far below that of the G20 average. By 2050, China could add 2TW of installed capacity – this is more than the current total installed capacity of the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and Japan combined. Despite this staggering expansion, China’s per capita installed capacity will only rise to 2.6kW by 2050 which although in line with Japan’s 2.3kW/capita in 2012, is far below that of the US of 3.4kW/capita for the same year".
Globally, agriculture is the largest user of water accounting for around 70% of water withdrawals, according to the FAO. In China, this proportion is even higher due to uneven water distribution and high wastage.
"China’s power is thirsty: 93% of its installed capacity needs water to generate electricity on a daily basis in 2013, of which industry accounts for 85%".
"China has plans to shift its energy mix away from coal and hydro power towards less water-reliant power such as wind and solar. Water-reliant power is projected to fall from 93% to 72% by 2050. However, the magnitude of China’s power expansion means that it is still +1.2TW of water-reliant power; equivalent to 4x the total installed capacity of Japan", the Report adds.
Hard choices lie head in balancing power mix from a water and change perspectives, for which wind, solar and nuclear appear to be winners. Nevertheless, even these green energies contain hidden water risks. Wind turbines require the input of rare earths whose production incurs water contamination risks while nuclear (along with fossil power) needs plenty of water for cooling.