Visualizing The World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

Hydropower can be economical, but there are some real questions about how sustainable it will be in the long run. Let’s visualize the world’s largest hydroelectric dams.

Visualizing The World's Largest Hydroelectric Dams

Did you know that the largest form of renewable energy in the world is hydroelectricity? The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently released statistics showing that it accounts for 40% of total capacity, surpassing solar (28%) and wind (27%).

Hydroelectric power plants, which are essentially big dams that employ the water flow to spin a turbine, produce this kind of energy. Additionally, they can perform auxiliary tasks like flow monitoring and flood control.

Marcus Lu of Visual Capitalist has created a visualization of the 5 biggest hydroelectric dams in the globe, ordered by their maximum output, to aid in your understanding of hydropower.

Visualizing The World's Largest Hydroelectric Dams 2

Overview of the Data

The table below provides crucial information about the five dams represented in this graphic as of 2021. The installed capacity of a plant is the maximum amount of power that it can generate when fully loaded.

Visualizing The World's Largest Hydroelectric Dams 3

China’s 2003-opened Three Gorges Dam stands at the top of the list. Its installed capacity is 22.5 gigawatts (GW), about twice as much as Itaipu Dam’s in second place.

The Itaipu Dam generates almost the same amount of electricity in terms of annual output. This is due to the minimal seasonal fluctuation of the Parana River, which means that the flow rate changes relatively little throughout the year. The Yangtze River, on the other hand, sees a major decline in flow for several months of the year.

For reference, the following are the installed capacities of the world’s three largest solar power facilities as of 2021:

  • Bhadla Solar Park, India: 2.2 GW
  • Hainan Solar Park, China: 2.2 GW
  • Pavagada Solar Park, India: 2.1 GW

Solar plants have a significantly lower installed capacity than our biggest dams. However, in terms of expense (cents per kilowatt-hour), the two are nearly equal.

Closer Look: Three Gorges Dam

With a construction cost of almost $32 billion, the Three Gorges Dam is a feat of engineering. Think about the following information to get a sense of its enormous scope:

  • The Three Gorges Reservoir (which feeds the dam) contains 39 trillion kg of water (42 billion tons)
  • In terms of area, the reservoir spans 400 square miles (1,045 square km)
  • The mass of this reservoir is large enough to slow the Earth’s rotation by 0.06 microseconds

Naturally, a structure created by humans of this size will have a significant impact on the environment.. According to a 2010 research, the dam has caused more than 3,000 earthquakes and landslides since 2003.

The Consequences of Hydroelectric Dams

Hydropower can be economical, but there are some real questions about how sustainable it will be in the long run.

To begin with, hydroelectric dams necessitate substantial upstream reservoirs to provide a steady supply of water. Newly flooded terrain can disturb wildlife, worsen water quality, and potentially trigger earthquakes and other natural calamities.

Dams can also alter how rivers flow normally. Millions of people who reside downstream from major dams experience food insecurity and flooding, according to other studies.

Whereas the benefits have generally been delivered to urban centers or industrial-scale agricultural developments, river-dependent populations located downstream of dams have experienced a difficult upheaval of their livelihoods.

– Richter, B.d. Et Al. (2010)

Climate change itself may be the biggest threat to hydropower. For instance, hydroelectric dams in states like California are becoming progressively less cost-effective as a result of the increasing frequency of droughts.

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