Top 10 Biggest & Most Majestic Hydroelectric Plants in the World
The largest source of renewable energy generation in the world, hydroelectric power has an installed capacity of more than 1,307GW. In a report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted that it would continue to be the largest source between 2019 and 2024.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently released statistics showing that it accounts for 40% of total capacity, surpassing solar (28%) and wind (27%).
Hydroelectric power plants, which are essentially big dams that use the water flow to spin a turbine, produce this kind of energy. Additionally, they can perform auxiliary tasks like flow monitoring and flood control.
Hydropower can be economical, but there are some real questions about how sustainable it will be in the long run.
To begin with, hydroelectric dams need sizable upstream reservoirs to guarantee a steady supply of water. Newly flooded land can disturb wildlife, worsen water quality, and even trigger earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Dams can also alter how rivers flow normally. Millions of people who reside downstream from significant dams experience food insecurity and flooding, according to other studies.
The actual threat of climate change to hydropower may be the biggest. For instance, hydroelectric dams in states like California are becoming significantly less cost-effective as a result of the increasing frequency of droughts.
As of 2023/2024, the Three Gorges dam constructed on the Yangtze River in China was the largest hydroelectric dam in the world based on generation capacity. The power plant had a 22.5 gigawatt capacity, and the dam was fitted with 34 turbo generators.
China is unquestionably one of the countries that supports hydroelectric power the most globally. Due to its low operating expenses, it is one of the least expensive energy facilities to maintain. Hydropower produced 1.3 petawatt hours of electricity in China in 2019. China accounted for 30.8% of the world’s hydropower consumption in 2020. China is home to two more sizable hydroelectric projects that are currently being built, and the country also has four of the top ten largest hydroelectric dams in the world, ranked by KnowInsiders.com.
(Ranked by KnowInsiders.com)
There are a large number of hydroelectric power plants worldwide. From tiny ones, which can power a few homes or an entire village, to enormous ones, which can power millions of homes and businesses. China, Brazil, Venezuela, the United States, Russia, and Canada are the countries with the biggest hydroelectric power plants.
The Three Gorges Dam power project is the largest hydroelectric dam in the world. It was constructed on the Yangtze River in the Hubei Province of central China. The 2.3km-long concrete gravity dam’s main purpose is to divert massive floods away from the Yangtze River’s upper, flood-prone sections. The power plant has a 22.5GW installed capacity and 34 turbo generators. It has a left powerhouse and a right powerhouse, both of which are 483 meters long.
The $31 billion hydroelectric power plant, which has been in operation since 2003, is the main source of electricity in East China, Central China, South China’s Guangdong Province, and other areas. By producing 111.8 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2020, the China Three Gorges Corporation-owned facility set a new record for the annual power production from a single hydropower plant. The power plant reduced emissions of 86.7Mt of carbon dioxide, 19,600t of nitrogen oxide, and 20,600t of sulphur dioxide, as well as the use of 31.7Mt of coal.
Although the dam contributes to cleaner energy production and lessens China’s reliance on coal for power generation, the power project was questioned about its resilience to significant flooding. After heavy rains increased inflows to the dam, Three Gorges experienced its highest flood peak since it began operating in August 2020. In November 2020, the project was said to have passed all flood control and power generation tests, dispelling concerns about its effectiveness.
On the Parana River, which runs parallel to the Paraguayan border, is the Itaipu Binacional hydroelectric power plant. It has 20 generating units, totaling 14GW in capacity. The power plant, which is owned by the governments of Brazil and Paraguay, required 12.3 million cubic meters (mcm) of concrete to construct. The amount of steel and iron used in the project is enough to construct 380 Eiffel Towers.
The 196-meter-tall dam is 7.23 kilometers long and 55 stories tall. The power plant produced 103.09 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2016, shattering the previous record for annual power generation. The plant contributes to Brazil and Paraguay’s energy needs by providing 15% of Brazil’s and 90% of Paraguay’s energy needs, respectively. The facility produces the most hydroelectric power overall in recorded history.
Since its commissioning in 1984, it has produced a total of 2.77 billion megawatt-hours (MWh) as of the end of 2020. To increase the plant’s productivity, technological upgrades are planned. The Itaipu power plant will be able to run sustainably for many years to come thanks to a long-term modernization program.
In 2014, the Xiluodu hydroelectric facility on the Jinsha Jiang River in China achieved full operation. The plant’s 18 Francis turbine generating units are equally distributed between the left and right bank. Xiluodu, the second-largest hydroelectric facility in the nation, has a concrete double curvature arch dam with a top dam height of 285.5 meters.
The project’s main areas of focus are improving navigation conditions, flood control, and power generation. Five enormous control gates are part of the project to regulate the river’s flow through the dam.
The plant, which is owned by China Yangtze Power, is one of the country’s main sources of renewable energy and aids in efforts to meet the country’s enormous energy demand while lowering emissions and coal consumption. The State Grid and China Southern Power Grid receive the 64 billion kilowatt-hours of renewable energy it produces each year.
In the Brazilian state of Para’s Amazon rainforest along the Xingu River is where the Belo Monte hydroelectric project is located. With an installed capacity of 11.23 GW, it produces enough electricity to meet 60 million people’s energy needs and 10% of Brazil’s total energy consumption. The installed capacity equates to about 7% of the nation’s total power generation capacity.
The 18th generating unit was turned on in November 2019 to bring the plant up to full operating capacity. It has six 38.85MW generating units in the complementary powerhouse in addition to 18 611.11MW units in the main powerhouse. The power plant, which is run by the Norte Energia consortium under a 35-year concession agreement, was constructed using more than 160,000t of steel and three million cubic meters of concrete. Due to the Itaipu plant’s shared ownership with Paraguay, Belo Monte is regarded as the nation’s largest wholly owned hydro facility. The project site, which is a part of Brazil’s hydropower construction boom, frequently experienced problems with low water levels as well as social and environmental issues.
The Guri power plant in Bolvar State, Venezuela, which is owned by C.V.G. Electrificacion del Caroni C.A. (EDELCA), started operating in 1978 with the activation of the first powerhouse, which had ten generating units. In 1985, a second powerhouse with ten more units was constructed.
With a 10.23 GW installed capacity, the Guri plant is essential to Venezuela’s energy industry as it provides about 80% of the nation’s electricity. The plant’s lifespan was increased by 30 years through the implementation of a modernization program. It concentrated on improving the project’s instrumentation, protection, and control systems.
The Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant, also known as Guri, was financed by the World Bank and the Venezuelan government. The reservoir covers about 4,600 km2, and the concrete gravity and embankment dam is 7.42 km long and 162 m high. Throughout the years, the country experienced several dry spells that had an impact on power production. In 2010, a prolonged drought caused the water levels in the Guri dam to drastically drop, resulting in a power crisis across the nation. After the power project failed in 2019, the majority of the nation was plunged into darkness by yet another severe blackout.
The 8.37GW power generation capacity of the Tucurui dam on the Tocantins River in the Brazilian state of Para. It has been in use since 1984 and provides 8% of the nation’s total energy requirements.
The project, which is being built in two stages, aims to increase power production and navigation. The 25-unit plant is the first sizable hydroelectric power plant in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and it is run by the power generation and transmission firm Eletronorte.
The first phase’s construction was finished in 1984, and the second phase, which added a second powerhouse, was finished in 2010. 14 generation units were produced in the first phase, and 11 more in the second.
The largest hydropower facility in the US is the 6.8GW Grand Coulee Dam. One of the largest concrete buildings in the world, it is situated on the Columbia River west of Spokane, Washington.
The power plant has four powerhouses, the largest of which is the Nathaniel Washington Power Plant, and can generate up to 21 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. The primary functions of Grand Coulee, which was constructed as part of the larger Columbia Basin Project, are hydropower, irrigation, and flood control. Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake, three power plants, a pump-generating plant, and four switch-yards are all part of the Columbia Basin Project.
Idaho, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado all receive electricity produced by the project. Each year, 4.2 million US homes are powered by the Grand Coulee Dam project. The third power plant at Grand Coulee is currently undergoing a multi-year overhaul to increase efficiency and lengthen service life by 40 years.
The 6.44 GW Xiangjiaba hydropower plant in southwest China was constructed on the Jinsha River, a tributary of the Yangtze River, and it produces 30.7 billion kilowatt-hours annually. It is installed with 800MW Francis turbines made by GE and owned by CTGC. The facility, along with the Three Gorges Reservoir, is in charge of managing floods in the Yangtze River’s midstream and downstream regions.
While the final generator was installed in 2014, the first generator started operating in 2012. For transmission to Shanghai, the generated electricity is connected to the 2,000 km long, 800 kV Xiangjiaba-Shanghai Ultrahigh Voltage Direct Current (UHVDC) link. Compared to the Itaipu transmission line, the link’s system voltage is 33% higher. One of the world’s longest transmission lines is the UHVDC.
On the Hongshui River in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is the Longtan hydroelectric power plant. It is a crucial part of China’s West-East Electricity Transmission project, which aims to develop the country’s western power resources and transfer electricity to Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Guangdong provinces, as well as Shanghai, Beijing, and Tianjin, all of which experience electricity shortages.
The Longtan gravity dam, which is 836 meters long and 216.5 meters high, can hold 27.3 billion cubic meters of water and 7 billion cubic meters of flood control water. The facility can produce 18.7 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.
The project called for building a dam, a power plant, and ship locks. In 2008, the plant’s first phase, which included seven generators with a combined capacity of 700MW, reached full operation. In 2009, the final and ninth generator reached full operation.
The largest hydroelectric plant in Russia is the 6.4GW Sayano-Shushenskaya facility on the Yenisei River. RusHydro, a hydroelectricity provider, runs the facility. Its 1.06km-long and 25m-wide arch-gravity dam rises to a height of 242 meters.
When one of the turbines failed at the Sayano-Shushenskaya plant in 2009, the building flooded, killing 75 people, and a 40t oil spill entered the Yenisei River, the plant came under intense scrutiny. All ten of the turbines were damaged by the accident, with at least three of them being completely destroyed.
In the wake of the accident, the plant was upgraded with the installation of a cutting-edge vibration monitor along with other safety measures. After the accident, the facility was temporarily shut down, which resulted in the loss of 2.5% of Russia’s electricity production. Despite the plant’s return to operation in February 2010, the repairs were finished by November 2014.
The two largest hydroelectric projects currently being built in China are the 10.2GW Wudongde project and the 16GW Baihetan Hydropower Station. While the first unit of the Wudongde plant was put into service in June 2020, the first two generation units of the Baihetan plant started operating in 2019.
More than 62.44 billion kilowatt-hours of power are anticipated to be produced annually by the Baihetan project, compared to 38.91 billion kilowatt-hours at Wudongde.
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