The 10 biggest hydroelectric power plants in the world

14 October 2013 (Last Updated July 27th, 2020 17:33)

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 biggest hydroelectric power plants, including the world's largest Three Gorges project. Power Technology lists the world's ten biggest hydroelectric power production facilities based on installed capacity.

The 10 biggest hydroelectric power plants in the world

What are the biggest hydroelectric power plants in the world?

Three Gorges, China - 22.5GW

The 22.5GW Three Gorges hydroelectric power plant in Yichang, Hubei province, China, is the world’s 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 (CTGC) through its subsidiary 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 involved in the supply of equipment for the project, including Alstom, which supplied 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, at the border between Brazil and Paraguay. The facility is operated by Itaipu Binacional.

Construction of the $19.6bn plant began in 1975 and was completed in 1982. A consortium of US-based IECO and Italy based ELC Electroconsult carried out the construction. Power production at Itaipu was started in May 1984.

The Itaipu hydro-electric 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 biggest 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 CTGC, 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 generating 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 Electrification 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 supplies 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 Eletrobas (49.98%). Construction on the $11.2bn project was started in March 2011, while operations were started with the commissioning of the first turbine generator unit in April 2016.

The project comprises two dams and two powerhouses, including a main powerhouse equipped with 18 Francis turbines of 611MW capacity each, and a supplemental power house with six 38.85 MW Bulb turbines. By September 2019, 15 of the 18 turbines in the main power house and all six Bulb turbines in the supplemental power house 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 has been producing since 1984.

Construction of the $5.5bn Tucuruí hydropower project started in 1975. The first phase was completed in 1984. It involved construction of 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 installation of 11 generating units with 370MW capacity each. A consortium of Alstom, GE 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, USA - 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 US 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 talland 1,592m long. Its construction started in 1933 and the left and right power houses, consisting of total 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 CTGC. It is built on the outlet of Jinsha River canyon, which is located 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 metres. 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 future.

Sayano-Shushenskaya, Russia - 6.4GW

The Sayano-Shushenskaya hydropower plant located on the Yenisei River in Sayanogorsk, Khakassia, Russia, is operated by RusHydro.

Construction of the power station started in 1963 and 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 Longtan dam is a roller-compacted concrete gravity dam 216.5m in height and 832m in width. The power station is owned and operated by Longtan Hydropower Development. 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.

NRI Energy Technology

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