2014 UN-Water Annual International Zaragoza Conference. Preparing for World Water Day 2014: Partnerships for improving water and energy access, efficiency and sustainability. 13-16 January 2014

Case study: The Energy-Water situation in India

By Mrs. Iris Cheng, Climate and Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace


India’s power generation has tripled and the water requirement for power generation more than doubled for the last 20 years and therefore now aims to add 100 GW of new capacity to the National grid in the 12th Plan period. The massive and unplanned expansion of coal power plant clusters are going to create water scarcity and negatively impact agriculture and thus the livelihoods of farming communities as we have seen in the documented case studies.

Coal-based thermal power is an extremely water-intensive way to generate energy however, there seems to be no consideration of the cumulative impact of this water use when sanctioning projects and the total capacity of projects that have received government sanctions is far beyond the capacity targeted. Currently, diversion of irrigation water for industrial uses, particularly coal fired thermal power plants, is happening at a substantial scale, legalised by state governments and supported by central policy.

Greenpeace commissioned a study in 2011 and was conducted by IIT Delhi which analysed the present and future water demands to be placed upon the river Wardha and Wainganga in Vidarbha, including the 1700 Million cubic metres of water per year required for the coal based thermal power plants proposed in the region. The national debate on water scarcity for such a large scale expansion of coal has not really caught the attention of policy makers as of yet. Since the electricity policy of the central government has placed a lot of ambitions on coal based power generation to supply India's future energy needs, the debate around water and coal seems not to focus on efficiency of water use by all sectors.

Despite the dire situation and conflicts, the energy-water debate is only just emerging in India. Greenpeace suggests for the impacts to be minimised, the State government of Maharashtra must suspend the water allocations to coal power plants made between 2003-2011 till proper assessment is done and revoke allocations that impact irrigation potential and thereby farmers livelihoods. Also, India needs to invest in sustainable energy solutions that will ensure energy security to the country. This would include investing significantly in energy efficient systems and maximize the use of renewable energy.