China leads the world in deployment of hydropower, with roughly 29% of global hydropower capacity. In 2021, approximately 80% of new hydropower capacity added globally was in China. 27
In 2021, China installed 20 GW of new hydropower capacity to reach 391 GW of total hydropower capacity by year end. In 2021, hydropower accounted for roughly 16% of China’s installed power capacity and 16% of China’s electricity generation. 28
The Three Gorges Dam, which became fully operational in 2012, is the world’s largest dam with an installed capacity of 22.5 GW. 29 Most Chinese hydropower development is in the western and southern parts of the country. Northern China has very little hydropower development.
The Chinese government has a longstanding commitment to expanding the nation’s hydropower capacity. Planning for the Three Gorges Dam began in the 1980s, as part of a broader program to use China’s hydro resources for development and flood control. Chinese hydropower capacity grew throughout the 1990s and began to accelerate rapidly in the early part of the last decade. The 12th Five-Year Plan (2011–2015) called for a 30% growth in hydropower capacity in five years. This target was exceeded with China reaching 319 GW of hydropower capacity in 2015. 30
The Chinese government continues to support hydropower development, but capacity additions have slowed during the past 10 years.
- The 13th Five-Year Plan set a target of 380 GW of hydropower capacity by 2020 and 470 GW of hydropower capacity by 2025 (including pumped hydro). The 2020 targets were missed by 9-10 GW. 31
- The 14thFive-Year Plan for Renewable Energy calls for hydropower to provide 17.4% of China’s electricity generation in 2025 (up from 16% in 2021) and “scientific and orderly” development of hydropower resources. 32
The 14th Five-Year Plan gives more attention to solar and wind power than hydropower.
Pumped hydropower is seeing more rapid expansion, because the technology offers the potential to help meet peak loads and improve integration of wind and solar power into electric grids. In 2021, the NEA issued a Medium and Long-term Development Plan for Pumped Storage (2021–2035) that calls for China to more than double its pumped hydro capacity to 62 GW by 2025 and reach 120 GW by 2030. 33