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Discover Shisanling: powering Beijing

The Shisanling pumped-storage hydropower station, set close to China’s iconic Ming tombs, combines history with modern technological achievement. On 18 May the site will be visited by delegates of the 2015 World Hydropower Congress during a special study tour. In this article, we explore the role of the station in securing the power supply to China’s capital.

Shisanling projectThe power industry is the linchpin of modern Chinese society. After the foundation the People’s Republic of China, the country’s power supply was plagued by shortages and irregular distribution. This not only had a detrimental impact on people’s daily lives, but also an adverse effect on China’s economy, tempering the development of key areas of industry.

The rapid development of hydropower, wind, nuclear and photovoltaic power has been vital in connecting low-carbon energy into the grid, and the advent of pumped-storage hydro has optimised the energy supply structure, ensuring a power system which is safe and economical. 

The principle of a pumped-storage power plant is to ensure that during times of low consumption the surplus power is stored and then realised at a later point. This is achieved by pumping water from the lower to the upper reservoir during times of decreased demand, and then releasing it back to the lower reservoir to generate electricity at peak times.

To tackle the mismatch between electricity supply and demand in the Beijing area, the government provided the funds for the development of the Beijing Shisanling pumped-storage power station. Planning started in 1990, and in 1992 the foundation stone of the project was laid. The first pump-turbine unit was commissioned in 1995, and by 1997 all four units were in operation, with a combined installed capacity of 800 MW.

The site selected for the project is near the world-renowned Ming tombs in the Chingping district of Beijing. In combination with the power station’s importance, this location has led to its development as an attraction for tourists. Set among the scenery of the Mangsham mountain is the Shisanling’s upper reservoir, with 4,500,000 m³ of storage capacity. Near to this, at the very peak of the mountain is a historic tower, and this piece of antiquity, set alongside the scenery of the reservoir, is a draw for many visitors each year.

Residing in the heart of the mountain is the project’s underground powerhouse. Tourists visiting this site can experience the 1 km access tunnel, which has been transformed into a science education gallery.
The lower reservoir of the Shisanling project is located at the foot of the Mangsham mountain. It is formed by a pre-existing water storage reservoir with a maximum capacity of 79,870,000 m³. The Shisanling construction project included improvements to the original lower reservoir, including the installation of a deep plastic concrete cut-off wall though the foundation rock beneath the dam.

Since it was put into production, the Shisanling pumped-storage station has been responsible for maintaining the security and stability of the capital’s electric grid. It has played a unique and important role during major events in the city, and guaranteed the electricity supply during periods of high demand.

The owner of the station, the State Grid Xin Yuan Company, told IHA that its "core ethos of sincerity, responsibility, innovation and contribution, was demonstrated in Shisanling’s role, and the company aspired to be a modern enterprise, building a strong power grid, with excellent assets, good service and promising achievements. We look forward to welcoming delegates of the World Hydropower Congress."


There are a range of study tours available at the 2015 World Hydropower Congress. You can find information about pre-congress tours here, and post-congress tours here.