11 Jun 2020

The Impact of Cooling Systems on the Environment (and How to Stay Compliant)

Waste Water treatment facility

Plants that use a lake, river, pond, or another body of water to carry out once-through cooling will have a discharge temperature limit.

This limit is set by the local environmental regulatory agency to preserve the native fish and animal species that live in that body of water. 

Keeping to this limit often affects plant productivity, but not adhering to it can lead to fines and even jail time.

As a result, plants have to find a way to cool the water that is being discharged that’s both efficient and healthy for the environment. 

Obviously, this need grows during the summer months when the water temperature is already higher than usual and plant cooling systems are already overloaded. 

To meet the temperature requirements, plants might find themselves having to operate at a reduced rate which can drastically affect output and revenue. 

Here’s the kicker. 

While most US power plants built before 1970 have once-through cooling systems already installed, these don’t comply with the EPA 316. This means plant owners are having to find a more environmentally-friendly solution.

The hope is that, by 2029, plants that only employ once-through cooling will be decommissioned.  

So what’s the solution?

Plant owners facing this issue can implement temporary cooling solutions that both comply with the temperature regulations and are also environmentally-friendly themselves. 

The Solution: Temporary Cooling Systems

Once-through cooling systems no longer cut the mustard. 

Instead, plants are turning to other methods to meet environmental regulations and remain compliant. These include:

  • Cooling ponds, or man-made bodies of water that were built specifically for cooling. They lower temperatures through evaporation, convection, and radiation.
  • Cooling towers, which transfer any wasted heat into the atmosphere via evaporation.
  • Co-generation, which is a process that recycles waste heat for domestic or industrial heating. 

Plant owners can integrate any one of these cooling solutions in order to comply with their local regulatory requirements and show that they are looking out for the environment. 

An Efficient and Environmentally-Friendly Cooling Solution

The most effective temporary cooling solutions involve running the overheated discharge water through cooling towers. 

This means diverting a section of the discharge water into a cooling tower before depositing it back into the discharge to mix with the remaining water and bring down the overall temperature. 

However, in order for the cooling towers to comply with regulatory standards, they have to be engineered in the right way.

Our Aggreko Cooling Tower Services (ACTS) was set up specifically to bring together the expertise of local engineering companies to quickly install cooling towers that are compliant and keep plants running at full capacity. 

As a result, the plants that choose this service don’t have to invest in a permanent cooling solution; they can just use the cooling towers in the warmer summer months to help cool down the discharge water. 

They also avoid derating, reduce thermal loading to the water source, add oxygen to the water, and require no maintenance. 

Complying with regulatory requirements is vital for plant owners if they want to avoid fines and potential repercussions, but it’s also important to maintain the local ecosystem and be as environmentally-friendly as possible. 

With a cooling tower solution, both of these are possible.