After releasing its 12th five-year plan, the Chinese government decided to set ambitious targets for renewable energy installations in an attempt to reduce dependence on coal power plants, which are poisoning the country’s cities. The target that has been set is to generate 15% of the country’s energy through renewable sources.
Large-scale hydropower stations will play a huge role in achieving this target, mostly due to the vast generating capacities that they can boast. The problem is that China’s commitment to developing hydroelectric power, on a scale unheard elsewhere in the world, disregards the impact on the environment, through loss of habitats or landslides, and the impact on human populations.
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Currently a 6.4GW hydroelectric plant is being constructed on the Jinsha river, on the border between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. The Xiangjiaba dam, set to be completed sometime next year, stands around 200 metres tall, so far contains 14 billion cubic metres of concrete, and will be the third largest in China. However in order to build the dam and the reservoir that will be stored behind it, more than 100,000 Chinese citizens had to be relocated.
Further upstream on the Jinsha river, an even larger hydroelectric dam, the Xiluodu dam, is being constructed, with a total generating capacity of 13.6GW; and this is still absolutely dwarfed by the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river, which generates 22.5GW of power.
Pictures of the Yangtze river before and after the Three Gorges Dam, showing the change to the environment. (American.edu)
According to the International Hydropower Association's (IHA) annual report published in April, China currently has 250GW of hydroelectric generating capacity, and it plans to boost this to 325GW by 2015, and 430GW by 2020.
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Yves Rannou, the head of Alstom’s operations in China, told the Guardian that “every year the Chinese increase their hydropower capacity by 15GW.” This is far more than any other country (outside of Asia), with North America installing just 1.9GW per year, South America installing 1.8GW a year, Europe adding 0.8GW a year, and Africa just 0.3GW each year.
The huge demand from Asia for hydropower projects and the giant turbine generators that the dams use, have caused some engineering firms to open up manufacturing facilities in China. In September Alstom opened a new hydropower industrial site in the Tianjin province in China, and Airbus has already got a large plant on the same industrial park. Patrick Kron, the COE of Airbus has predicted that up until 2035, 50% of the world’s new hydroelectric plants will be built in China, with that share increasing to 85% when including all of south-east Asia.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com