What Is The Second Biggest Hydro Project?

Hydroelectric power is one of the oldest methods of generating renewable electricity. It uses the natural flow of water to produce power by directing river water through a turbine connected to a generator (USGS). Hydroelectric dams provide affordable and reliable electricity, control floods, enable irrigation, and provide drinking water (DOE). Hydroelectricity supplies 17% of the world’s electricity and is considered an important source of renewable energy (USGS).

In this article, the ‘second biggest’ hydroelectric project refers to the second largest hydroelectric power station in terms of installed capacity, after the Three Gorges Dam in China. The article will examine the technical details and significance of this massive hydro project.

History of Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power has been used for thousands of years, dating back to ancient civilizations. The earliest known use of water wheels to generate mechanical power was in Ancient Greece during the 3rd century BC, with vertical water wheels invented for grinding grains like wheat into flour (source). Water wheels evolved over the centuries and spread around the world for multiple industrial applications.

The first known hydroelectric power plant was built in Cragside, England in 1878 by William George Armstrong. It used water from lakes on the property to power Siemens dynamos and was used to power the mansion’s lights. The first commercial hydroelectric power plant opened on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin in 1882 and produced 12.5 kilowatts of power (source).

The electrical age began in the late 19th century with hydroelectricity providing much of the early electricity. Large scale hydroelectric plants opened in the early 20th century, supplying cities and industries with power. The Hoover Dam opened in 1936 as the largest hydroelectric power plant of its time, ushering in the modern era of massive hydro projects.

World’s Largest Hydro Projects

Here are the world’s largest hydroelectric power plants based on maximum generating capacity:

  • The Three Gorges Dam in China is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam with a generating capacity of 22,500 MW. It is located on the Yangtze River in central China.
  • The Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border has an installed capacity of 14,000 MW making it the second largest hydroelectric power plant. Its reservoir spans both countries.
  • The Xiluodu Dam in China has a generating capacity of 13,860 MW. It is located on the Jinsha River in Yunnan Province.
  • Guri Dam in Venezuela generates 10,235 MW of electricity. Its reservoir, Lake Guri, is one of the largest lakes in South America.
  • The Tucuruí Dam on the Tocantins River in Brazil has a 8,370 MW capacity. It provides about 70% of the electricity consumed in the northern part of the country.

So the Three Gorges Dam in China is the world’s single largest hydroelectric power station with a massive 22,500 MW generating capacity.

The Second Biggest Hydro Project

the baihetan dam in china is the second largest hydroelectric power station in the world.
The second largest hydroelectric power station in the world is the Baihetan Dam in China. It is located on the Jinsha River, the upper section of the Yangtze River in Sichuan Province, southwest China. Construction on the Baihetan Dam began in 2008 and was completed in 2022.

The Baihetan Dam is owned and operated by the China Three Gorges Corporation. When fully operational, it will have an installed capacity of 16,000 megawatts (MW), second only to the Three Gorges Dam’s 22,500 MW capacity.

The Baihetan hydropower station includes a 289-metre-tall (949 ft) and 770.5-metre-wide (2,526 ft) concrete double-curvature arch dam, sixteen 800 MW hydro turbines, a 1.3-kilometre (0.81 mi) long and 60-metre-wide (200 ft) ship lock, as well as associated infrastructure.



Technical Specifications

The Baihetan hydropower station has an installed capacity of 16,000 megawatts (MW), making it the second largest hydropower station in the world after the Three Gorges Dam in China. The dam is located on the Jinsha River in southwest China and measures 289 meters high and 663 meters wide at its crest.

The Baihetan project utilizes a dam and power house complex with 16 Francis turbine-generators of 1,000 MW each. The total generating capacity of 16,000 MW would be enough to power around 15 million households in China. The generators are housed in an underground power station with 8 tunnels, each housing 2 x 1,000 MW turbine-generators.

The massive reservoir created by the Baihetan dam has a total storage capacity of over 15.2 billion cubic meters of water. With its huge capacity, the dam can generate over 62.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year according to estimates. For comparison, the world’s largest hydroelectric power station – the Three Gorges Dam – has a capacity of 22,500 MW.

The Baihetan hydropower station was built at a cost of around $26.5 billion and construction began in 2017. In December 2022, the last of the 16 turbine-generators was activated, allowing the project to reach its full capacity. The massive dam and hydroelectric plant will provide clean renewable energy helping to reduce China’s greenhouse gas emissions.



The Baihetan hydropower plant created a massive reservoir on the Jinsha River in southwest China. With a total reservoir capacity of over 15.1 billion cubic meters, it is one of the largest reservoirs in China1. The gigantic reservoir stretches over 600 kilometers and submerged land area totals 554 square kilometers across Qiaojia County, Yunnan Province and Ningnan County, Sichuan Province2.

Flooding such a large area to create the reservoir had significant ecological impacts. Over 100,000 people were relocated and entire villages were submerged underwater. Large areas of farmland and forests were lost. The dam blocked the migration paths of many fish species like Chinese sturgeon, affecting their populations. Conservation efforts relocated some rare plant species and animals from the flooded zones. Overall, the massive reservoir radically altered the local environment and ecosystems.


The Baihetan hydropower station is located on the Jinsha River, on the border between Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in southwest China. Construction on the massive project began in 2008. At its peak, over 70,000 workers were employed in building the dam, hydroelectric power plant, spillway, ship lock, and other components of the project.

The main dam is a concrete double-curvature arch dam that stands 289 meters tall. Building the dam required over 31 million cubic meters of concrete. The project also involved relocating around 100,000 residents who lived in the area that would be flooded by the reservoir.

On June 28, 2021, the first generator at Baihetan was connected to the grid, marking a major milestone. In December 2022, after over 14 years of construction, the Baihetan hydropower station was officially completed and became fully operational. The massive project is now the second largest hydroelectric power station in the world after the Three Gorges Dam, also located on the Yangtze River in China.


Costs and Benefits

The Baihetan hydroelectric plant was an enormous undertaking that required substantial investments, but is expected to generate significant economic benefits. The total cost of the project was around $26.67 billion [1]. China invested heavily in the project with the aim of increasing clean energy capacity and reducing reliance on coal. According to Chinese state media, the plant will play a crucial role in achieving carbon neutrality goals [2].

The primary benefit of Baihetan is its massive electricity generating capacity. With 16 generators producing 1 GW each, the plant will have an installed capacity of 16 GW, making it the second largest hydroelectric generator in China after the Three Gorges Dam. Annually, it is expected to generate over 62.4 billion kWh of electricity, helping meet increasing energy demands. This represents a major boost to renewable energy in China’s grid.

Besides electricity production, Baihetan will also provide flood control, aid in river navigation, and minimize seismic activity risks in the downstream Yangtze river. The project includes two 1,000-meter-long and 114-meter-high ship locks to help navigate the challenging rapids along the river. Overall, the capabilities represent substantial economic and environmental gains for the region and country.

Environmental Impact

The Baihetan project resulted in significant environmental impacts, both positive and negative. On the negative side, the massive dam flooded 403 square kilometers of land, submerging villages, forests, farmland, and crucial habitat for endangered species like the Chinese sturgeon and Chinese paddlefish (Reuters, 2022). Conservation groups estimate that over 100 species were negatively impacted. The weight of the reservoirs water also triggered seismic activity and earthquakes in the region.

However, the project backers highlight sustainability benefits. The plant will generate over 62.4 billion kWh of electricity per year from a renewable resource rather than fossil fuels. This will offset around 52 million tonnes of annual carbon emissions, helping China meet its climate goals. The reservoirs also provide flood control, irrigation, and transportation benefits downstream (World Economic Forum, 2022). Overall, the project reveals the complex tradeoffs involved in massive hydro projects between clean energy and environmental preservation.

Significance and Legacy

The Baihetan hydropower plant is significant as it is now China’s second largest hydroelectric dam, behind only the Three Gorges Dam (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baihetan_Dam). With 16 generators producing 1 GW each, the Baihetan plant has an installed capacity of 16 GW, making it a major contributor to China’s renewable energy goals.

The project is considered the last large-scale hydropower development in China after a series of massive dams starting with Three Gorges. As such, it marks the culmination of China’s era of megadam construction (https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/china-completes-construction-second-biggest-hydro-plant-2022-12-20/).

The Baihetan dam will provide clean renewable electricity to power China’s growing economy for decades to come. Its generation capacity will help reduce China’s reliance on coal and offset millions of tons of carbon emissions annually. The project cements China’s status as the world leader in hydropower generation.

With its substantial power output, the Baihetan dam will have a lasting legacy providing affordable and reliable electricity to central and eastern China. Its size and impact solidify its significance as a milestone in China’s renewable energy development.

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