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Half Empty ep.10: High cost, low price restrain development

Reporter: Han Bin 丨 CCTV.com

05-25-2015 05:44 BJT

Full coverage: Special Series: Half Empty

China has already invested tens of billions of dollars to solve the drought crisis, even diverting water from the south to the far and parched north. However, all the plans have only addressed part of the problem, leaving the authorities to search for additional fixes. Desalination is one, but the questions remain of cost and price. Today in our special series Half Empty, our reporter Han Bin goes to one such plant in Tianjin, neighboring city to Beijing, to find out whether desalination is a viable option for China's water woes.

Water can make all the difference. Having enough to drink is not a problem for Cao Shuping today. But that wasn't always so.

Today, the 70-year-old Tianjin resident saves as much as she can in her daily life. It's not about money. Rather, it's because of the bitter memory of the city's water shortage that has deeply affected her since she was born.

"I clearly remember when I was a child that Tianjin's drinking water used to taste very salty. The water color was yellow," A Tianjin resident Cao Shuping said.

On the edge of the Bohai Sea, is Tianjin's biggest desalination plant. It can process some 200,000 cubic meters of water every day.

Company director Li Tao told us the plant is a combination of state-of-the art Israeli desalination equipment, plus China's modern power plants.

The power generators are fueled by coal. It takes 5 kilograms of coal to process a ton of fresh water. The energy costs drive up the water price.

Investment in the first phase of the project was 12 billion yuan, or some 2 billion US dollars.

"One ton of steam can create 15 tons of fresh water through this system. This high efficiency of energy use in desalination has reached the highest rate in the world," Li said.

China has already invested tens of billions of dollars to solve the drought crisis, even diverting water from the south to the far and parched north. However, all the plans have only addressed part of the problem, leaving the authorities to search for additional fixes. Desalination is one, but the questions remain of cost and price.

China has already invested tens of billions of dollars to solve the drought crisis, even diverting water from the south to the far and parched north. However, all the plans have only addressed part of the problem, leaving the authorities to search for additional fixes. Desalination is one, but the questions remain of cost and price.

Li Tao says that the plant is environmentally-friendly. The power generators use a closed-cycle seawater cooling system, without the exploitation of groundwater.

This plant seems to have set a model for other cities.

Tianjin's facilities utilize the remaining heat from the power plant, with runoff steam to desalinize seawater. It's seen as a greener way, --a kind of recycling model that improves the efficiency of power use.

We went to see the control room.

At the moment, the plant is not at its full capacity, as demand is weak. But Li Tao believes that as the city does not have enough water for development, desalinized water has a promising future.

We had a taste.

It's been promoted as the highest quality drinking water the city has. It surpasses all government safety standards.

"Desalination has a great advantage over other solutions to water shortage, like long distance water diversion. It will not be affected by weather conditions. The quality of water is also stable. And the source is from the sea, which can be endless for us to use," Li said.

Though the plant is not profitable at present, Li Tao says desalination will bring relief to the water-stressed cities.

Like most Chinese cities, Tianjin is very dry. Yet it's developing into an economic zone. As ground water continues to diminish, and water diversion solves only part of the problem, the government is turning to the sea. That means more desalination plants like this one in the future.

For Cao Shuping, and millions of other Tianjin residents, paying more for water is hard to accept. What they don't realize is the real cost of this water is in the energy demand.

But the government sees it as a ray of hope.

While Cao Shuping rejects it, because cost aside, saying it doesn't encourage conservation.

China has already invested tens of billions of dollars to solve the drought crisis, even diverting water from the south to the far and parched north. However, all the plans have only addressed part of the problem, leaving the authorities to search for additional fixes. Desalination is one, but the questions remain of cost and price.

China has already invested tens of billions of dollars to solve the drought crisis, even diverting water from the south to the far and parched north. However, all the plans have only addressed part of the problem, leaving the authorities to search for additional fixes. Desalination is one, but the questions remain of cost and price.

China has already invested tens of billions of dollars to solve the drought crisis, even diverting water from the south to the far and parched north. However, all the plans have only addressed part of the problem, leaving the authorities to search for additional fixes. Desalination is one, but the questions remain of cost and price.

China has already invested tens of billions of dollars to solve the drought crisis, even diverting water from the south to the far and parched north. However, all the plans have only addressed part of the problem, leaving the authorities to search for additional fixes. Desalination is one, but the questions remain of cost and price.

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