Skip to content

China adding a “California” of power, while water issues affecting a “California” of people

2012 January 25
by susty

China’s National Energy Administration recently released numbers for how much power capacity was added in 2011. I put them together in a chart for the past decade. China has added a “California” of power for each of the past seven years, more than 70 gigawatts per year, which is roughly the capacity of California’s total electrical grid.

The coal numbers are the most stark, but China’s wind market had another record year, while hydro power plants are also still coming online at an incredible rate.

However, a recent post by ChinaCSR got me thinking again about China’s water issues, and especially the water/energy nexus and the sustainability of hydro power in China. I was first introduced to these issues when I read Ma Jun’s book China’s Water Crisis a couple years ago, and I’m thinking I should go back and re-read. He asserted that due to China’s various watershed and river issues (for example, too much soot in the water due to deforestation), China’s hydro power plants were often producing much less power than originally planned. China’s CSR post points to the crisis in Poyang Lake in Jiangxi, which has been all but drained. I went into Google maps to take a closer look. I toggled between map mode and satellite mode, and well, I’ll let the picture speak for itself.

Shocking right? Well, there’s the verification that the lake is only at 5% capacity (the picture may be a bit old, I didn’t go into Google Earth to check, but seems accurate)! Dongting Lake in Hunan province is also facing major droughts, and overall ~35 million people have been affected, roughly the population of California.

So while China is adding a “California” of power, here is a situation where a “California” of people have been affected. It gives you a humbling sense of scale of both the pace of growth and the size of problems that China is facing.

If they add all of these hydro power plants, will they all face a water shortage, which will only lead to more coal power production? The central region of China (called Hua Zhong 华中) is about six provinces in total and is home to major river basins, and these provinces as an aggregate get 39% of their power production from hydro. But what is going to happen if all of the rivers run dry?

  • Facebook