Baihetan Dam on the Jinsha River

China’s enormous Baihetan Dam starts producing electricity for the first time

Image credit: reuters

China’s Baihetan Dam, the second largest hydroelectric facility in the world, has started generating electricity for the first time, state media has reported.

The dam, which lies on the Jinsha River in southwest China, turned on its first two 1GW generating units as part of China’s efforts to curb its escalating use of fossil fuels.

By July 2022, the dam should be operating on 16 units with the same capacity, giving it a total power generation second only to the Three Gorges Dam, which spans the Yangtze River, also in China. Both dams were built by the state-owned Three Gorges Group, the world’s biggest investor in hydro, solar and wind generation.

The Baihetan Dam has a towering height of 289 metres but has taken only four years to build. It had been in the planning stages for around a decade when, in 2011, China decided to build four dams on the Jinsha river, also including Xiluodu, Xiangiaba and Wudongde, with a combined installed capacity of 43GW.

CCTV, China’s state media channel, focused on the advanced engineering required to get the project up and running.

In a letter endorsing the project, President Xi Jinping said: “As a major project in China’s west-east power transmission program, Baihetan is the largest and most technically difficult hydropower project currently under construction in the world.”

China will use ultra high-voltage (UHV) transmission technology to move power from the collection of dams in the south west to Shanghai and other eastern cities. As well as the electricity generated, it will give China greater control over the water flows during its heavy summer floods.

It also helps China to cut its reliance on coal after its commitment in September 2020 to reach net zero carbon by 2060. CCTV said that once fully operational, it would negate the need to burn 20 millions tons of coal annually.

Despite the rhetoric from one of the Government’s official mouthpieces, China is still one of the world’s largest consumers of coal and is pushing ahead with a number of new coal-fired power plants.

While hydropower has a much lower direct carbon impact than coal burning, it is becoming increasingly unpopular in other countries due to its significant impact on the local environment as it floods communities and disrupts the natural ecology of rivers.

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