Hydroelectricity in China

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The Three Gorges Dam is the largest power station (of any kind) in the world by installed capacity, with 22.5 GW.
Satellite picture of the Longyangxia Dam reservoir and solar power park.

Hydroelectricity is currently China's largest renewable energy source and the second overall after coal.[1] China's installed hydroelectric capacity in 2015 was 319 GW,[2] up from 172 GW in 2009, including 23 GW of pumped storage hydroelectricity capacity.[2] According to the International Hydropower Association China is the worlds largest producer of hydroelectricity in 2020. In 2015, hydropower generated 1,126 TWh of power, accounting for roughly 20% of China's total electricity generation.[2]

Due to China's insufficient reserves of fossil fuels and the government's preference for energy independence, hydropower plays a big part in the energy policy of the country. China's potential hydropower capacity is estimated at up to 600 GW, but currently the technically exploitable and economically feasible capacity is around 500 GW.[3] There is therefore considerable potential for further hydro development.[1]

Hydroelectric plants in China have a relatively low productivity, with an average capacity factor of 31%, a possible consequence of rushed construction[1] and the seasonal variability of rainfall. Moreover, a significant amount of energy is lost due to the need for long transmission lines to connect the remote plants to where demand is most concentrated.[1]

Although hydroelectricity represents the largest renewable and low greenhouse gas emissions energy source in the country, the social and environmental impact of dam construction in China has been large, with millions of people forced to relocate and large scale damage to the environment.[4]

Largest hydroelectric plants[edit]

Name Chinese name River Years of completion Installed
Location Coordinates
Three Gorges Yangtze 2008 22,500 98.8[6] 1,084
Xiluodu Jinsha 2014[7] 13,860[8] 55.2
Xiangjiaba Jinsha 2014[9] 6,448 30.7 95.6
Longtan Hongshui 2007/2009 6,426 18.7[10]
Nuozhadu Mekong 2014[11] 5,850 23.9[12] 320
Jinping-II Yalong 2014 4,800
Laxiwa Yellow 2010 4,200[13] 10.2
Xiaowan Mekong 2010 4,200[14] 19 190
Jinping-I Yalong 2014 3,600 17 82.5
Ertan Dam Yalong 1999 3,300 17 101
Pubugou Dam Dadu 2009/2010 3,300 14.6
Goupitan Dam Wu 2009/2011 3,000[15] 9.67 94
Guanyinyan Dam Jinsha 2014/2016 3,000 13.62
Gezhouba Dam Yangtze 1988 2,715 17.01
Jinanqiao Dam Jinsha 2010 2,400
Liyuan Dam Jinsha 2014/2015 2,400
Guandi Dam Yalong 2013 2,400

Under construction[edit]

Name Chinese name River Expected completion Expected
Location Coordinates
Baihetan Dam 白鹤滩水电站 Jinsha 2021 16,000   28°15′06″N 103°39′34″E / 28.25167°N 103.65944°E / 28.25167; 103.65944 (Baihetan Dam)
Wudongde Dam 乌东德水电站 Jinsha 2021 10,200   26°20′02″N 102°37′48″E / 26.33389°N 102.63000°E / 26.33389; 102.63000 (Wudongde Dam)
Fengning PS[16][17][18] 丰宁抽水蓄能电站 3,600  
Hongping PS[19] 洪坪抽水蓄能电站 2,400  

Huanggou PS[16][17][18] 荒沟抽水蓄能电站 1,200  
Hohhot PS[16][17][18] 呼和浩特抽水蓄能电站 1,200  
Panlong PS[16][17][18] 蟠龙抽水蓄能电站 1,200  
Shenzen PS[16][17][18] 深圳抽水蓄能电站 1,200  
Tianchi PS[16][17][18] 天池抽水蓄能电站 1,200  
Wendeng PS[16][17][18] 文登抽水蓄能电站 1,800  


The first hydroelectric power plant in China was built in Yunnan province in 1912, with a capacity of 240 kW. Due to the subsequent period of political and social instability, little additional progress was made in power infrastructure in the country at that time. The total installed capacity before the Japanese occupation was only about 10 MW. During the Japanese occupation several large scale hydroelectric projects were built, and total capacity reached 900 MW. Energy infrastructure however suffered heavy damage during the second World War, and the operational capacity after the war was only about 580 MW.[20]

After the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949, a program of dam construction was initiated. However, most of these dams were built for irrigation and not intended to produce electricity. Moreover, construction was carried out mostly by unskilled peasants. During this period, the steady supply of cheap domestic coal hindered the development of hydroelectricity.[20] Installed hydroelectric capacity grew somewhat after the 1960s, with plants of growing size and complexity, reaching a total of 20 GW in 1980.[20]

Environmental impact[edit]

Hydropower is considered a renewable and clean energy source. However large dams, such as the Three Gorges Dam or the Xiluodu Dam have had environmental impacts on the areas surrounding dam reservoirs. Typical problems have been erosion, flooding of farmland and destruction of fish breeding habitats.

Flooding of large areas for reservoirs also forced about 15 million people to be relocated since 1949.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Walker, Qin (29 July 2015). "The Hidden Costs of China's Shift to Hydropower". The Diplomat. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b c "China | International Hydropower Association". www.hydropower.org. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  3. ^ "China – hydropower as the right solution?". our-energy.com. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
  4. ^ Hvistendahl, Mara. "China's Three Gorges Dam: An Environmental Catastrophe?". Scientific American. Retrieved 1 November 2016.
  5. ^ Generating capacity is not the only factor determining the amount of electricity generated, as this also depends on consistent utilization of the plant's capacity. Factors enhancing this are the free capacity of the reservoir and the consistency of water supply during and across years.
  6. ^ "China's Three Gorges dam 'breaks world hydropower record'".
  7. ^ 2425. "世界第三大水电站溪洛渡水电站机组全部投产--能源--人民网".CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ "China's second-largest hydropower station in full operation".
  9. ^ 马常艳. "中国第三大水电站向家坝水电站将全部投产发电_中国经济网——国家经济门户". Archived from the original on 2017-08-16. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  10. ^ "龙滩水电站创世界建设最快纪录--能源--人民网".
  11. ^ "云南省最大水电站糯扎渡水电站全面建成投产". Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-26. Retrieved 2014-08-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-08-26. Retrieved 2010-08-26.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "小湾电站机组全部投产 我国水电装机突破2亿千瓦". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03.
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2011-07-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ a b c d e f g List of pumped-storage power plants in China 1 (Mandarin) Archived 2011-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ a b c d e f g List of pumped-storage power plants in China 2 (Mandarin) Archived 2011-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ a b c d e f g List of pumped-storage power plants in China 3 (Mandarin) Archived 2011-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Yichin Power- List of all of the information Archived 2011-07-07 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ a b c Kang, Xiaofeng. "Hydropower Development in China History and Narratives" (PDF). Retrieved 1 November 2016.