Hydropower is one of the oldest and most widely used renewable sources of energy. China, the world's largest producer of hydroelectricity, operates three of the world's ten most giant hydroelectric power plants, including the world's largest Three Gorges project. Power Technology lists the world's ten most significant hydroelectric power production facilities based on installed capacity.
Three Gorges, China – 22.5GW
The 22.5GW Three Gorges hydroelectric power plant in Yichang, Hubei province, China, is the biggest hydropower station. It is a conventional impoundment hydropower facility exploiting the water resource of the Yangtze River. The project is owned and operated by China Three Gorges Corporation (C.T.G.C.) through China Yangtze Power.
Construction of the CNY203bn ($29bn) power project was started in 1993 and completed in 2012. A 181m-tall and 2,335m-long gravity dam was built as part of the Three Gorges project. The power plant consists of 32 turbine/generator units rated 700MW each and two 50MW power generators. Six foreign groups were supplying equipment for the project, including Alstom, which provided 14 Francis turbine units.
The generating units of the Three Gorges power station were commissioned between 2003 and 2012. The annual power output of the plant is estimated at 85TWh. The generated power is supplied to nine provinces and two cities, including Shanghai.
Itaipu, Brazil & Paraguay – 14GW
The 14GW Itaipu hydroelectric power plant is located on the Parana River, between Brazil and Paraguay. Itaipu Binacional operates the facility.
Construction of the $19.6bn plants began in 1975 and was completed in 1982. A consortium of US-based I.E.C.O. and Italy-based E.L.C. Electroconsult carried out the structure. Power production at Itaipu was started in May 1984.
The Itaipu hydroelectric facility supplied 15% of Brazil's energy consumption and 90% of the energy consumed in Paraguay in 2018. It consists of 20 generating units with a capacity of 700MW each. It produced 103.1 million MWh in 2016, which made it the most giant generating hydropower plant in the world at that time.
Xiluodu, China – 13.86GW
The Xiluodu hydropower plant built on the Jinsha River in central Sichuan Province of China has an installed capacity of 13.86GW. Developed by C.T.G.C., it was officially inaugurated in 2013 and connected to the grid in June 2014.
The power plant features the world's first ultra-high concrete double-curvature arch dam at an elevation of 610m. The maximum height of the dam is 285.05m, and the reservoir area is 454,400km².
The hydroelectric plant is installed with 18 Francis turbine-generator units of 770MW each. The power generated is transmitted to consumers through the State Grid and China Southern Power Grid. The plant is currently developing an average output of 57.07TWh a year, which is expected to increase to 616.2TWh in the long term.
Guri, Venezuela – 10.2GW
The Guri power project, also known as the Simón Bolívar hydroelectric power station, is located on the Caroni River in the Bolívar State of southeastern Venezuela. CVG Electrificacion del Caroni owns and operates the plant.
Construction of the power project started in 1963. It was carried out in two phases, with the first phase completed in 1978 and the second phase in 1986. The power plant consists of 20 generating units of different capacities ranging between 130MW and 770MW.
Alstom was awarded two contracts in 2007 and 2009 to refurbish four 400MW units and five 630MW, respectively. Andritz received a contract to supply five 770MW Francis turbines for the powerhouse II of Guri in 2007. The Guri power station provides approximately 12,900GW/h of energy for Venezuela.
Belo Monte, Brazil – 9.39GW
The Belo Monte hydropower project under construction on the lower reach of the Xingu River in Pará, Brazil, was installed with 9.39GW generating capacity as of September 2019. When fully commissioned with its planned 11.2GW capacity in 2020, it will be the world's fourth-biggest hydroelectric power plant.
The Belo Monte power station is owned and operated by Norte Energia, a consortium led by the Brazilian electric utility company Eletrobras (49.98%). Construction on the project of $11.2bn was started in March 2011, while operations were created with the commissioning of the first turbine generator unit in April 2016.
The project comprises two dams and two powerhouses, including the leading powerhouse with 18 Francis turbines of 611MW capacity and a supplemental powerhouse with six 38.85 MW Bulb turbines. By September 2019, 15 of the 18 turbines in the leading powerhouse and all six Bulb turbines in the supplemental powerhouse were commissioned.
Tucurui, Brazil – 8.37GW
The Tucuruí Hydropower Complex, situated on the lower Tocantins River in Tucuruí, Pará, Brazil, was built in two phases and produced in 1984.
Construction of the $5.5bn Tucuruí hydropower project started in 1975. The first phase was completed in 1984. It involved constructing a concrete gravity dam 78m tall and 12,500m long, 12 generating units with a capacity of 330MW each and two 25MW auxiliary units.
Construction of the second phase to add a new powerhouse was started in 1998 and completed in late-2010. It involved the installation of 11 generating units with 370 MW capacity each. A consortium of Alstom, G.E. Hydro, Inepar-Fem, and Odebrecht supplied equipment for the phase. The power station delivers electricity to the Belém town and the surrounding area.
Grand Coulee, the U.S.A. – 6.8GW
The 6.8GW Grand Coulee hydropower project, located on the Columbia River in Washington, US, was built in three phases. Owned and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, it commenced operation in 1941. The annual generating capacity of the plant is more than 24TWh.
The Grand Coulee hydropower station consists of three power plants and a concrete gravity dam 168m tall and 1,592m long. Its construction started in 1933, and the left and right powerhouses, consisting of 18 Francis turbines rated 125MW and three 10MW additional units, were operational by 1950.
The third power plant consists of three 805MW units and three 600MW units. Its construction began in 1967, and all the six units of the plant were commissioned between 1975 and 1980. The overhaul of three 805MW units at the third station began in 2013. Two of the units were overhauled in April 2016 and March 2019, while the third unit's overhaul is expected to be completed by the end of 2020. The overhaul of the remaining three 600MW units is set to begin in 2024.
Xiangjiaba, China – 6.4GW
The Xiangjiaba hydropower plant was the third power plant to be developed and operated by C.T.G.C. It is built on Jinsha River Canyon, located in the Yibin City of Sichuan and Shuifu County, Yunnan, China.
The Xiangjiaba dam is 162m-high and has a crest elevation of 384m. The reservoir area is 458,800km², and the reservoir capacity is 5.163 billion cubic meters. The power plant is installed with eight units of 800MW each and comprises various structures for flood discharge, diversion, power generation, and ship lift.
All eight generating units of the power plant were in operation in 2019. The annual generating capacity of the power plant is 30.88kWh, which is expected to increase to 33.09kWh in the future.
Sayano-Shushenskaya, Russia – 6.4GW
The Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant on the Yenisei River in Sayanogorsk, Khakassia, Russia, is operated by RusHydro.
Construction of the power station started in 1963 and was completed in 1978. An arch-gravity dam 242m tall and 1,066m long was constructed as part of the project. The power plant consists of ten Francis generating units with a capacity of 640MW each. It generates 23.5TWh of energy a year, of which 70% is delivered to four aluminium smelters in Siberia.
The plant was shut down temporarily in 2009 following an accident, which caused damage to the turbines. It reopened in 2010 after the issues were fixed. Ten new units with 96.6% efficiency are planned to be installed at the plant at an estimated cost of $1.4bn.
Longtan, China – 6.3GW
The Longtan hydropower project located on the Hongshui River in Tian'e County, Guangxi, China, is the sixth biggest in Asia.
The hydroelectric power station consists of nine Francis 700MW generating units. The power station is owned and operated by Longtan Hydropower Development. The Longtan dam is a roller-compacted concrete gravity dam 216.5m in height and 832m in width. It was designed by Hydrochina Zhongnan Engineering and built by Sinohydro.
Construction of the Longtan hydropower project started in May 2007. The first generating unit was commissioned in May 2007. The project became fully operational in 2009. The turbine generators for the plant were supplied by Voith, Dongfang, Harbin, and Tianjin. The annual generating capacity of the plant is estimated to be 18.7TWh.