Among the renewable energy sources in China, hydroelectricity is by far the largest. Among all the energy sources, coal is first with hydroelectric power being second. As of 2015, the installed hydroelectricity capacity was 319 gigawatts (GW) compared to 172 GW of 2009. In the same year, hydroelectric power accounted for about 20% of China’s energy needs after producing 1,126 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity. Since China has a huge population and insufficient fossil fuel reserves, the estimated maximum potential of 600 GW of the hydroelectric power sector is extremely crucial. Despite this potential and need, the production from these plants is low due to unreliable rainfall and rushed construction of these plants. Also, the situation is made worse by the large costs associated with the impact on the environment and displacement of people while constructing the dams. Currently, there are 22 dams in China that are considered to be large (those with at least 2,000 megawatts (MW) production capacity).
China's Hydroelectric Stations
Three Gorges Dam
This dam is supplied mainly by the Yangtze River and is located in China’s Yiling District. Aside from being the largest power station in China, the Three Gorges Dam is the largest in the world as well when it comes to producing hydroelectric power. The dam was completed in 2008 and has an installed capacity of a massive 22,500 MW. In 2014, it produced a world record 98.8 TWh although the record was beaten in 2016 by the Itaipu Dam which produced 103.1 TWh. Aside from electricity production, the dam was also constructed to reduce the potential for flooding by the majestic Yangtze River.
On this list, Ahai Dam is the smallest with a relatively small installed capacity of 2,000 MW.The dam, which is located in the Yulong County, is supplied by the Jinsha River and has a similar capacity to the Lijiaxia Dam which is supplied by the Yellow River. Among the world’s largest, Ahai ranks in the 70th position. Completed in 2014, the dam has an annual production of 8.877 TWh.
Also known as the Gezhouba Water Control Project, the Gezhouba Dam is situated in Yichang City of the Hubei province in China. The dam is also supplied by the Yangtze River. Among China’s dams, this is by far the oldest with its construction work ending back in 1988. The age may provide insights as to why the dam has a small installed capacity of about 2,715 MW. The construction was done at a time when the technology was not as advanced as it is today. Among the world’s dams, it ranks in the 37th position whereas it is 14th among China’s dams. In a year, it has a production of 17.01 TWh. The construction of this dam has been linked with the extinction of the Chinese paddlefish.
New Hydroelectric Power Plants
In a bid to improve the power production in the country and meet its energy needs, the government of China has a number of new hydroelectric plants under construction. The biggest plant under construction will be at Baihetan Dam and will have an installed capacity of 16,000 MW.