China Hydro In Tibet (Part Two) The Voyage Of Discovery

Posted on Sun 10/05/2014 by


TonyfromOzProfileImageBy Anton Lang ~

Could the Motuo Hydro Electricity project in Eastern Tibet be one of the most astonishing engineering achievements ever constructed?

It is currently still only under active consideration, but why would a proposal even get this far unless there was some certainty that it could actually be done.

China's Three Gorges Hydro Electric Dam And Power Plant

China’s Three Gorges Hydro Electric Dam And Power Plant

The image at right shows the Immense Three Gorges Dam, the largest Power Plant on Earth, and this Motuo project is almost twice the size of this.

In the earlier Post (at this link) I canvassed an opinion as to why China is so interested in staying in Tibet, and that the reason could be Hydro Electric Power on the many Rivers that rise in the Himalayas and flow through Tibet, in what is called the Tibet Autonomous Region. China has proposals for a large number of Hydro schemes in Tibet. Definitive information on most of those new proposals is difficult to come by.

One of those proposals made me sit up and take notice, because of the size of the project, not the physical size, but the amount of power that is proposed to be generated.

In that earlier Post, I linked to two maps of proposals for Hydro Plants in Tibet. One of those maps showed some proposals for the Yarlung Tsangpo River which flows across Tibet from West to East, has a huge loop to the North, and then, turning South again, it enters India where this same river is called the Brahmaputra River. I have since found a better map of that area and that map is at this link. Rather than just put the map here as an image, go instead and look at the map, because with a smaller image at this site, the detail is difficult to see.

Under the map is a list of existing and  proposed dams and hydro plants, and you can see there that the Motuo plant has a Nameplate Capacity of 38,000MW. That is what made me sit up and take notice. The largest power plant on Earth is also a Hydro electric plant and that is the immense Three Gorges Hydro plant on the Yangtzse River in China. That Three Gorges Hydro Plant has a Capacity of 22,500MW, so here you can see that this proposal for the Motuo Plant is much bigger than Three Gorges.

That intrigued me, and I wanted to find out more about it. Thinking that task would be relatively simple I started searching for information. Now go again to the map I linked to above and at the right of that main map, and under it is an enlargement of the area where this Motuo proposal is. Note the line across that area indicating Motuo, and the fall in height from the start point, around 2850 Metres to the finish point, 850 Metres, a fall of 2000 Metres. That line across this area indicates tunnels and pipes. There is a dam at the start point and a dam near to  the end point, but if the project was just a dam with the hydro attached to the dam, as it is with Three Gorges, then why is there the need for pipes when the water flows into the dam anyway, via the River itself.

So, what I needed to do was to find information about the project itself. A map such as that at the link is just a representation, so what I wanted to do was to actually see what the terrain was like in that area to see if such a huge dam was in fact feasible.

That search, and related searches on the proposal itself initially, took me to a number of sites, and all of them mentioned that this would be a huge dam for the Hydro plant, and that thinking stems from thinking about Three Gorges, a huge dam with the Hydro Plant attached as part of the dam itself, a typical Hydro plant.

Now look at this image below, of that Three Gorges Dam and Hydro Plant.

China's Three Gorges Hydro Dam. The generators are either side of the spillway in the middle of the dam. There are 35 turbines in all.

China’s Three Gorges Hydro Dam. The generators are either side of the spillway in the middle of the dam. There are 35 turbines in all.

The middle section of the dam wall here is where the sluice gates and the spillways are. On either side of this are the turbines themselves. There are 35 of these turbines, and they are arranged in what is referred to as  a Turbine Hall. There differing numbers of Turbine/Generator units in each turbine hall, but there are 35 units in all, in, basically four of these turbine halls.

Because these turbine/Generator units are so huge, each of them generating 700MW per unit, and with 35 of them, this means that the dam wall itself has to be long enough to house them all. Three Gorges Dam is 2400 Metres in length.

So, if a similar construction was planned for the Motuo plant, then it would mean that the dam wall would be close to 4000 Metres in length or even more.

From this, I then had to find if the terrain in this area could actually support a dam that wide. In reality a dam that wide is not really feasible at all, but it was worth checking.

Also keep in mind here that a project of this scale is not even started until there is a huge amount of infrastructure in place, and keep in mind that this Motuo proposal is in what is basically relatively inaccessible wilderness. So, long before any start is made on a huge project of this nature, vast amounts of infrastructure need to be in place, just to actually get there at all.

All of these searches quite literally snowballed, as I found more and more information, some of it it fact, and some of it conjecture, and guesswork.

What started out as perhaps one follow up Post from the original Post, this one on the engineering of this proposal, became something else altogether, and it actually looks like this will make up three separate Posts.

It has indeed been a voyage of discovery. My original thinking on this proposal has changed three times.

During that search, I looked at Google Earth to find out what the terrain was actually like in this area. Now while that basically showed that this was just wilderness, it showed up a few surprising things that have happened in that area, and are still happening. One thing I noticed from that Google Earth imagery was the dates of the satellite imagery. While some are relatively recent, dating from 2013, most of the area upstream shows as as absolute wilderness, and nearly all of that area is imagery taken from as far back as 2001, and it showed that in this area, there was nothing,  just a few very small areas where there was some evidence that very small numbers of people were living, but basically nothing at all.

What I needed was something similar to this, where I could search along the river, only with a more recent time frame. I eventually located one, and was immediately thankful that I actually did use Google Earth first. The new imagery was much more recent, and if you can believe the date along the bottom, then some of that imagery dates from this year 2014, although I suspect that it may be earlier than that, as the date does not change as it did in Google Earth.

However, the most surprising thing I did find during that comparison, is the almost exponential build up of construction along the River in this area, again, keeping in mind that all this is supposedly just wilderness. A lot of that construction also included large buildings, which I might look at as being engineering in nature. Some of the towns in that area have also had huge build ups in population, obvious just from looking at the images. There is an awful lot of building going in this area.

Besides just following this satellite imagery, I was also still looking at other links looking for further information on something like this project. Most links led to further links, some of use, and some not really, but all of them had to be run down. To that end, I would say I have visited probably more than a hundred sites, perhaps well more than a hundred in fact.

So, that’s why this has indeed been a voyage of discovery.

As new information came to me, it confirmed the original idea I had that this was not a hydro plant at the dam itself, but was in fact a different and new form of Hydro, and while I say new, it is in fact an extension of engineering for hydro that has been around for a long time.

Now, this Post acts an an introduction to the remaining two Posts. I needed to explain how all this information came about, not just as some guess, but something quite calculated and based in a logical progression.

The next Post will deal with the infrastructure that has been put in place to support a project of this scale.

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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.