Novel methodology for evaluating economic feasibility of low-water cooling technology retrofits at power plants

Ashlynn S. Stillwell, Michael E. Webber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Increasing demand on water supplies - already strained by population and economic growth and instream flow requirements - means many areas are considering conservation and reallocation to meet their needs. One method of increasing water availability is through low-water cooling technologies at thermoelectric power plants. Cooling towers, hybrid wet-dry and dry cooling systems reduce water requirements and the environmental impact at power plants but require additional capital and operating expenditure. These expenses can be offset with revenue from leasing water rights made available by new cooling technologies and the added benefit of drought resiliency. Thus, cooling technology retrofits are hypothesized as cost-effective opportunities for increasing drought resiliency and supporting instream flows. To test this hypothesis, we developed a novel methodology for evaluating drought resiliency as a function of economic and technical performance parameters. Using a river basin-based water resources model of 39 Texas power plants, we illustrate this methodology to determine the feasibility of retrofitting alternative cooling technologies. At current capital costs and water prices, switching to alternative cooling technologies is economically justifiable today at three facilities. Higher water prices, coupled with higher volatility in water availability, will be likely to make low-water cooling technologies economically viable at more power plants in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)292-308
Number of pages17
JournalWater Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 14 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Cooling tower
  • Dry cooling
  • Power plants
  • Texas
  • Water economics
  • Water policy
  • Water rights

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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