For the tenth consecutive year, China added more new installed hydropower capacity than the rest of the world combined, cementing the country’s leading role in global hydropower development.
In 2015, China added 19,370 MW of new hydropower capacity*, including 1,230 MW of pumped storage, bringing the total installed capacity in the country to 320 GW. The country remains the world’s leading producer of renewable energy. China is also a world leader in clean energy investments, which now exceed total investments in fossil fuels and nuclear power combined.
In its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), China reaffirmed the terms of its bilateral agreement with the USA, pledging to reach peak total emissions by 2030, or earlier, and to reduce power sector emissions by 60 per cent before 2020. China has also shown a determined effort to combat urban air pollution by reducing coal consumption and bolstering the carbon efficiency of transport and industry.
In order to achieve these ambitious goals, China is rapidly expanding low-carbon generation technologies, including nuclear, wind and solar power. The flexible characteristics of hydropower, including pumped storage, facilitate the increased grid penetration of wind and solar.
Pumped-storage hydropower is also complementing the growing nuclear power capacity in the country. In 2015, China produced over 1,126 TWh of hydroelectric energy, a 5 per cent increase from 2014, while fossil fuel production dropped by almost 3 per cent. Hydropower accounts for 20 per cent of the country’s total power production.
China has largely met the ambitious goals for hydropower development set out in its twelfth five–year plan (2011–15). However, it has not developed pumped storage capacity at such a rapid rate as conventional hydropower. Installed pumped-storage capacity reached 23 GW in 2015, which is far from the plan’s 41 GW target.
Nearly one-fifth of China’s installed wind power output was curtailed in 2014, i.e. electricity that could have been generated by wind farms was not accepted, due to excess power in the system. Some of this curtailment can be attributed to the lack of pumped-storage capacity. This situation also reflects the need for improved transmission and distribution interconnections.
The slower rate of pumped storage development can be attributed in part to the lack of fair remuneration for grid services by the market. The Chinese government has now reformed policies to encourage further pumped storage development.
New policy instruments include a two-part feed-in tariff, which is specific to pumped-storage plants. This mechanism reflects the value of pumped storage’s ancillary energy services, and acknowledges the technology’s important role in providing reserve capacity.
Further policies put the onus on the two Chinese grid companies, China State Grid and China Southern Grid, to construct and manage new pumped-storage stations.
An estimated 27 GW of pumped storage capacity is currently in development across the country. Notable pumped storage projects include the 3,600 MW Fengning plant in Hebei province, which is currently under construction. When completed in 2021, it is expected to be the largest pumped storage station in the world.
Pumped storage projects that are expected to commission turbines in 2016 include Tianchi (1,200 MW) and Jixi (1,800 MW).
Notable capacity additions in 2015 include the addition of the first two 650 MW turbines at the Dagangshan hydropower station on the Dadu River in Sichuan. When fully commissioned in 2016, this project will have a total installed capacity of 2,600 MW. The Guanyinyan project (3,000 MW) on the Jinsha River added three more 600 MW turbines in 2015; one remains to be installed before the project is completed.
In the Tibet Autonomous Region, the 510 MW run-of-river Zangmu station was fully commissioned, having added its first two 85 MW turbines in late 2014. Zangmu, located some 140 km away from Lhasa, will be the largest hydropower station in the region. The 120 MW Niyang station, also in Tibet, close to the Indian border with Arunachal Pradesh, was fully commissioned.
Elsewhere, the 558 MW Mamaya hydropower station, situated on the Beipangjiang River, a tributary of the Pearl River, in Guizhou province, was connected to the grid. It will supply power through newly constructed transmission lines to Guangdong provinces.
This country profile is featured in the 2016 Hydropower Status Report. You can download the full report here.
This profile was last updated in May 2016.