Water for cooling

There are several technical procedures applied by industry and especially energy producers which use water bodies as a heat sink. In general, water is pumped from a lake or river to serve as a cooling source. The heated water is returned to the environment. This "thermal pollution" can pose a threat to the functioning of aquatic ecosystems.

The extent of water abstraction for cooling in energy production and the manufacturing industry in relation to total water abstraction varies from country to country depending on its industrial structure. In some countries such as the Bulgaria and Poland more than half of the total abstracted water was used for energy production in 2015.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA) the water temperature of some European rivers and lakes increased by 1 - 3°C during the last century. This is partly a result of air temperature increase, but also locally due to increased inputs of heated cooling water from power plants. Several time series predict a general trend of increasing water temperature in European rivers and lakes in the range of 0.05 to 0.8°C per decade. In recent years warmer water and reduced river flows in Europe have led to reduced production, or temporary shutdown, of several thermoelectric power plants.


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Data sources

A key dataset from Eurostat, “annual freshwater abstraction by source and sector” includes inter alia water that is used to absorb and remove heat in the course of processes for the generation of electricity and in the manufacturing industry.

The European Environment Agency also refers to this topic in its analysis "Water abstraction for energy cooling (million m3/year)".

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) offers information on cooling water for energy generation and its impact on national-level water statistics.