Since the turn of the century, the country has more than quadrupled its hydropower capacity, accounting for over half of worldwide growth. The economy has benefitted hugely from the development of its vast hydropower resources, which account for around 17 per cent of total electric power installed capacity.
Recent developments (2020):
According to IHA’s 2020 Hydropower Status Report, total hydropower capacity reached 356 GW in 2019 after a further 4.2 GW in capacity was added and China’s total estimated hydropower generation reached 1,302.00 TWh.
Pumped storage hydropower capacity grew by just 300 MW in 2019, with a temporary pause on new projects. This was due to a lack of progress in electricity market reforms affecting investment returns for energy storage projects, and pressure to reduce electricity prices for consumers.
With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of hydropower projects were halted and construction schedules were disrupted. As China has eased its social distancing measures, construction has since resumed. In addition, a number of pumped storage and grid infrastructure projects have been resumed to stimulate the recovery.
In the next five years, we can expect to see new hydropower projects being commissioned including mega projects such as Wudongde (10,200 MW) and Baihetan (16,000 MW) on the Jinsha River, as well as Lianghekou (3,000 MW) and Yangfanggou (1,500 MW) on Yalong River will be completed between 2021 and 2022. The first batch of generating units at Wudongde has been commissioned in July 2020.
In September 2020, China’s President Xi Jinping announced its aim to become carbon neutral by 2060, affirming the country’s commitment to combatting climate change.
Read our in-depth country profile (2019):
In recent years, annual capacity growth has slowed in line with weaker economic conditions and reduced power demand growth, resulting in overcapacity and renewables curtailment. In 2018, 33,200 GWh of wind and solar and 69,100 GWh of hydropower generation was curtailed.
To tackle this problem, the Chinese government issued the ‘Clean Energy Consumption Action Plan 2018–2020’ which aims to virtually eliminate curtailment by 2020. The Sichuan provincial government also announced plans to establish a ‘hydropower consumption demonstration zone’ with direct power purchase and dedicated power lines for local industrial users.
Inter-provincial power transmission channels have been constructed to export excess hydropower generation and in 2018, two further transmission lines from Yunnan province achieved significant progress. The 800 kV Northwestern Yunnan-Guangdong UHVDC power transmission project with a transmission capacity of 5,000 MW was commissioned, and the world’s first UHV multi-terminal DC project, the 800 kV Wudongde–Guangdong and Guangxi transmission began construction.
Pumped storage is essential to provide flexibility to the power system and continues to be a priority in China’s energy transition. The 1,200 MW Shenzhen station was commissioned in 2018 and is the country’s first large scale pumped storage built in a city, in addition the 600 MW Qiongzhong station entered into operation. Furthermore, the main civil works of three pumped storage projects (1,200 MW Fu Kang, 1,800 MW Jurong and 1,200 MW Yongtai) began construction in 2018. A number of conventional projects were also commissioned, including 1,900 MW Huangdeng, 348 MW Sha Ping II, 920 MW Dahuaqiao and 420 MW Li Di stations. Meanwhile, substantial progress has been made with the world’s largest hydropower project currently under construction, China Three Gorges Corporation’s (CTG) 16,000 MW Baihetan project, with the completion of intake towers for spillway tunnels.
Apart from advancing infrastructure development, the Chinese government also implemented a series of reforms and policies to speed up their clean energy transformation. In 2018, China began reforming its electricity market to transition from a planned dispatch to an electricity spot market that will allow renewables to be dispatched first, and hydropower is expected to benefit from increased generation. Pilot spot markets, which is the buying and selling of electricity for immediate delivery, are being developed in eight provinces and regions; however, seven of them failed to meet the 2018 deadline and have been postponed and in 2019, the central government will intervene to accelerate their development. Furthermore, ancillary services markets that will better reward the services of pumped storage were successfully implemented in five regional power markets including Northeast China.
Finally, China continues to promote green finance for its massive clean energy investment needs. Internationally-aligned green bond issuance reached USD 31.2 billion (CNY 210.3 billion) in 2018, and China’s green bond market is the world’s second largest, accounting for 18 per cent of global issuance. The country’s green bond standards were developed to support the financing of clean energy projects including large-scale hydropower. Between 2017 and 2018, CTG raised USD 2.25 billion to finance its Jinsha River cascade projects, including the Baihetan and Wudongde hydropower projects.
This country profile is featured in the 2019 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report: hydropower.org/statusreport
This profile was last updated in October 2020.