The Baihetan hydropower project is a 16GW hydroelectric facility under construction on the Jinsha River, a tributary of the Yangtze River in south-west China. It will be the world’s second biggest power station after the Three Gorges Dam, upon completion.

The massive project extends over the Ningnan county in the Sichuan province and the Qiaojia county in the Yunnan province of China.

The Baihetan project is being developed by Jinsha River Chuanyun Hydropower Development Company, which is a joint venture between China Three Gorges (CTG) Corporation (70%), Sichuan Energy Investment Group (15%), and Yunnan Energy Investment Group (15%).

The Baihetan power station became operational with the commissioning of the first two 1GW turbines in June 2021, while the third and fourth generating units were put into operation in July 2021. The project generated five billion kilowatt-hours (KWh) of electricity as of September 2021.

The remaining 12 units of the hydroelectric power station are scheduled for commissioning by July 2022. At full capacity, the project is expected to annually generate up to 60 billion KWh of electricity, offsetting approximately 52 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 emissions a year.

Baihetan hydropower project background

Baihetan is one of the four Chinese hydropower projects having an installed capacity of more than 10GW each. The other three mega hydroelectric projects in the country are the 22.5GW Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, the 13.86GW Xiluodu, and the 10.2GW Wudongde project on the Jinsha River.

The Baihetan and Wudongde projects are being built in phase two of a massive 46GW hydropower development scheme involving four large projects downstream of the Jinsha River. The scheme is part of China's West-to-East Power Transmission programme to transmit surplus renewable electricity from Western China to the more populated Eastern China.

The Xiluodu and the 6.4GW Xiangjiaba hydroelectric projects, both located downstream of the Baihetan project, were completed in phase one, respectively in 2013 and 2012.

The Baihetan project is being constructed downstream of the Wudongde hydropower project, which became fully operational in June 2021. At full capacity, the four projects can transfer up to 190 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity a year to Eastern China.

Baihetan hydropower project development details

The feasibility study for the project was approved by the National Development and Reform Commission of China in 2010. Construction works on the project were started in August 2017 and the first turbine unit was installed in January 2019.

Baihetan is one of the world’s first projects to use 1GW hydro-turbine generator units.

Baihetan hydroelectric facility make-up

The Baihetan project involved the construction of a concrete double-curvature arch dam with a crest elevation of 834m and a crest width of 13m.

The project comprises two underground powerhouses, one each on the left and right banks of the dam. Each powerhouse will be equipped with eight 1,000MW Francis turbines being indigenously manufactured in China.

Baihetan dam and reservoir details

The impoundment level of the dam is 825m, while the reservoir capacity is 20.627 billion cubic metres (bcm). The dam is designed to have a regulation storage capacity of 10.43bcm and flood control storage capacity of 7.5bcm.

The Baihetan dam has six flood gate structures and three spillway tunnels. The flood discharge capacity of the project is 42,346m³/s.

Contractors involved in the world’s second-biggest hydroelectric power project

China Three Gorges (CTG) is responsible for the construction of the Baihetan hydropower project.

CTG collaborated with Dongfang Electric Machinery, a power generation equipment supplier based in China, to develop the first 1,000MW turbine generator for the project. HBIS Wusteel was contracted to supply the turbine stay rings, generator lid, and control rings.

Dongfang will supply eight turbine generator units to be installed in the left bank powerhouse of the Baihetan project, while Harbin Electric Machinery Factory was contracted to supply the remaining eight units of the right bank powerhouse.

Caterpillar supplied machinery used in the earthworks of the Baihetan hydropower project.