China has firmly established itself at the forefront of global hydropower development. In 2016, the country increased its total installed hydropower capacity by over 11.74 GW to 330 GW, representing more than a quarter of the world’s total.
While new development of domestic hydropower has slowed down as most major sites have been identified and explored, China still commissioned more new capacity in 2016 than any other country. With the increasing development of variable renewables such as wind and solar, a strong emphasis is being placed on increasing pumped storage capacity in order to improve stability in the grid.
The most notable of China’s hydropower fleet under construction is the Wudongde project on the Jinsha River in the south- west, which will provide 10.2 GW installed capacity when complete (12 x 850 MW turbines). The project began construction in 2014, with the first generator scheduled to be commissioned in 2018; it is expected to be completed in 2020, and will be the sixth-largest hydropower project in the world in terms of installed capacity.
China’s 13th five-year plan on energy development, covering the period to 2020, was officially published in early January 2017. It outlines a strategy to minimise reliance on coal, and achieve a minimum share of 15 per cent non-fossil energy: specific targets include an additional 60 GW of hydropower.
The plan emphasises better and integrated planning of China’s energy system in order to make it more efficient and reliable. A major east-to-west transmission expansion is a key feature of a strategy to bring hydropower from inland resource centres to load centres on the coast.
The country largely met the ambitious goals set out in its previous five-year plan, which covered the 2011–15 period; however, pumped storage capacity has not been developed at such a rapid rate as conventional hydropower.
With the required policy frameworks now in place, the new plan focuses on increasing pumped storage capacity, with its total volume representing just 1.5 per cent of China’s installed electricity capacity at the beginning of 2016. In order to address this shortage, the country aims to reach 40 GW total pumped storage capacity by 2020.
Implementation is well under way. In 2016, China commissioned three pumped storage projects totalling 3.66 GW – Xianju (1,500 MW), Hongping (1,200 MW) and Qingyuan (960 MW). In addition, the first batch of units at the 1,500 MW Liyang project came online in August 2016, and the project in on schedule for completion in April 2017. Furthermore, over 30 GW of pumped storage capacity was under development in China at the end of 2016.
The new five-year plan also set outs commitments to emphasise ecological and environmental protection in the development of hydropower, to strengthen international cooperation, and to advance the alleviation of poverty.
In December 2016, China’s ministry of water resources adopted ‘guidelines on promoting the development of small hydropower plants’. The document outlines plans to develop and grow the small hydropower industry in China by 2030 with a respect to environmental protection, focusing on technology improvements and best practices for plant construction, operation and management.
The document calls for standards to improve small hydropower management, a system of incentives promoting small hydropower installations, and establish a number of small hydropower projects by 2020. China commissioned several new run-of-river hydropower plants in 2016, including: Tongzilin (600 MW), Lizhou (345 MW), Huangfeng (225 MW) and Qireha tal (210 MW).