Virtual Scarce Water Embodied in Inter-Provincial Electricity Transmission in China
Intra-national electricity transmission drives virtual water transfer from electricity production regions to electricity consumption regions. In China, the water-intensive thermoelectric power industry is expanding quickly in many water-scarce energy production hubs in northern and northwestern provinces. This study constructed a node-flow model of inter-provincial electricity transmission to investigate the virtual water and scarcity-adjusted virtual water (or virtual scarce water) embodied in the electricity transmission network. It is revealed that total inter-provincial virtual water transfer embodied in electricity transmission was 623 million m3 in 2011, equivalent to 12.7% of the national total thermoelectric water consumption. The top three largest single virtual water flows are West Inner Mongolia-to-Beijing (44 million m3), East Inner Mongolia-to-Liaoning (39 million m3), and Guizhou-to-Guangdong (37 million m3). If the actual volumes of consumptive water use are translated into scarcity-adjusted water consumption based on Water Stress Index, West Inner Mongolia (81 million m3), Shanxi (63 million m3) and Ningxia (30 million m3) become the top three exporters of virtual scarce water. Many ongoing long-distance electricity transmission projects in China will enlarge the scale of scarce water outflows from northwestern regions and potentially increase their water stress.