Could China’s Interest In Tibet Be Hydro Power?

Posted on Wed 09/17/2014 by


TonyfromOzProfileImageBy Anton Lang ~

Have you ever wondered why China wants a stake in Tibet, and why there has been so much trouble that they’ve had there. Why would China view Tibet as looking so attractive when Tibet is such a seemingly backward place at the top of the World, a freezing cold Country, seemingly a backwater.

Could it be Hydro Electric Power that could be so attractive here?

China's Huge Three Gorges Hydro Electric Dam And Power Plant

China’s Huge Three Gorges Hydro Electric Dam And Power Plant

It’s been nagging away at me for a while why China is powering ahead with Hydro power in such a huge manner, and yet India, with such huge water resources has not been looking at doing the same thing, when electric power generation in India is so small.

Well, India is in fact looking at hydro power, and on a pretty dramatically large scale as well. From what I can find, and I’m still searching, India is looking at around 170 Hydro projects just in the North East of India alone, mainly centred around the huge river systems in that area. The total Nameplate Capacity for all these proposals comes in at almost 60GW, which is the same as for 30 large scale coal fired power plants. (2000MW) Now that’s a lot of hydro. 170 plus different projects. See the image at this link showing the schemes India has in varying stages of proposal and construction. Each small black square is a proposed Hydro electric dam proposal. All of this is mainly focused in the area to the North Of Bangladesh, and is on the Brahmaputra River Basin and its numerous tributary Rivers. The problem here for India is access to water further downstream, in Bangladesh itself, even though this huge River causes regular major flooding in the low lying Country of Bangladesh, so India could use the excuse of flood mitigation here.

At the same time as I’ve been doing this, I’ve also been looking at the continuing vast expansion of Hydro Power in China, resurrected somewhat from earlier plans, some of which were shelved, and have now been revived under China’s 12th Five year Plan (2012-2017) for Hydro construction. There are huge new proposals for Hydro Power across most of China.

However, what is of interest is China’s plans for Hydro in Tibet. These plans for a vast expansion of Hydro in this Tibetan area are because of the rapid Industrialisation of the two Chinese Provinces closest to this area, Qinghai Province and Sichuan Province. That Industrialisation calls for access to huge amounts of electrical power, something that China has only been doing in the last ten years, on a huge scale, not just hydro power, but large scale construction of coal fired power plants as well.

Tibet is in the Himalayas, the source of a number of major River Systems, fed by the huge Glaciers in the Himalayas and also from the monumental snow melt each year, traditionally the cause of some of those huge floods in South East Asia, India, and Bangladesh.

I have two images to show you here. The first is at this link. It shows just some of the proposals from the whole of this area, mainly around those Rivers rising in the Chinese Himalayas in those two Chinese Provinces, and flowing away to the South, and these are concentrated to the right side of this map. You can see the number of dams, either already in operation or proposed.

The second map is at this link, and it is a closer detail of that first map, showing the proposals for the Chinese projects in Tibet, which are along the largest river system here, and that River is the Yarlung Tsangpo (or Yarlung Zangbo as it is sometimes referred to as). This River is the upstream part of the huge Brahmaputra River which flows through India. That River has its source in the far West of Tibet, at the left of this map, and flows West to East across Tibet to where it turns to the South and becomes the Brahmaputra River as it enters India. What I have done here is to take a section from this map and show it below.


The Yarlung Tsangpo is the blue line across the lower middle of the image, and here you can follow it from Lahtse, through Shigatse, Tsethang and from there to the area shown with the orange/tan circle where it turns South into India and becomes the Brahmaputra River. Those reddish coloured rectangles across the River, and other Rivers in this area are new Hydro proposals.

The Chinese have just one of their projects, and it’s early days yet, to place a hydro power generating plant on this Yarlung Tsangpo river in one of the gorges there. It is proposed to be around 50GW, and if so, that will make it two and a half times larger than the already hugest hydro, China’s Three Gorges Dam, which I’ve written about earlier. (That Four part series is at this link)

There are also many more hydro proposals for the Yarlung Tsangpo, but this Monster Hydro is of real interest. Proposed to be around 48 to 50GW in Nameplate Capacity, this will make it two and a half times larger than the immense Three Gorges Dam. The site for this proposal is the Yarlung Tsangpo Gorge, which is also referred to as the Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon. It is the deepest canyon on Planet Earth and falls more than 2000 metres along this canyons 400 Kilometre length, which becomes attractive because of the enormous energy entailed in the water dropping that far along its length, making it perfect for hydro electric power generation. Besides this one huge proposal if it does eventuate, there are 11 other Hydro proposals for this River in the same area, totalling 65GW in Nameplate Capacity, as well as more plans for other Hydro power dams on the tributaries of this huge River, and these will add a further 65 GW of Nameplate Power, a combined total Nameplate the equivalent of 60 large scale coal fired power plants.

I’m going to add another Post about the engineering of this huge new proposal, but consider this. If constructed, this one Hydro plant will provide approximately 300TWH (TeraWattHours) of power into the grids in that area, and the surrounding Chinese Provinces. That 300TWH per year is double the power delivered from EVERY wind tower in the United States.

All of this gives a complete new perspective on why China is so insistent about staying in Tibet.

Anton Lang uses the screen name of TonyfromOz, and he writes at this site, PA Pundits International on topics related to electrical power generation, from all sources, concentrating mainly on Renewable Power, and how the two most favoured methods of renewable power generation, Wind Power and all versions of Solar Power, fail comprehensively to deliver levels of power required to replace traditional power generation. His Bio is at this link.