The Largest Hydroelectric Power Plants in the World

At present the biggest hydroelectric power plant in the world is the “Three Gorges Dam” on the Yangtze River in China. Its installed capacity of 22,500 MW is approximately equal to the output of the next two power plants on the list of largest hydroelectric power plants, both of which are in South America.

Three Gorges Dam, China (map)

Three Gorges Dam (Source: © sinitar / stock.adobe.com)

Three Gorges Dam

The construction of the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China, started in 1993. Thanks to its size, it is considered a modern equivalent to the Great Wall of China. The dam is 181 meters high and 2,335 meters long. In addition to its energetic use (its installed capacity of 22,500 MW should cover 10% of the demand of China), this dam protects adjacent regions from floods while improving conditions for shipping. But aside from its indisputable benefits, this structure also has a negative impact on its environment. 1.24 million People (150 cities and 1,350 villages) had to be relocated during the filling of the reservoir and some archaeological sites were lost to the water too. The huge water mass has a considerable impact on its environment. The valley slopes suffer from frequent large scale landslides while mud and waste builds up on the bottom of the lake.

The Three Gorges Dam reservoir consists of three flooded canyons. It is 650 km long and its surface is over 1,000 km2.

Itaipú Dam, Brazil/Paraguay (map)

Before the “Three Gorges Dam”, the Itaipú hydroelectric power plant on the Paraná River was the largest in the world (now second). It lies on the border between Paraguay and Brazil and has supranational company status so it is not owned by any of the two countries. It was completed in the eighties of the last century. The construction took nearly 14 years. The dam is 196 meters high and 7,919 meters long. The installed capacity of all 20 turbines is 14,000 MW total. When full, the water level of the reservoir is 100 meters above the level of the original river. The power plant covers approximately 20% of the yearly demand of Brazil and practically all the demand of Paraguay.

The expression “Itaipú” in translation means “The Singing boulder”.

20 generators are installed at the Itaipu hydroelectric power plant on the Parana river (Brazil and Paraguay). Together they amount to 14,000 MW of power. (Source: © diegograndi / stock.adobe.com)
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Spillways fitted with tainted gates for controlled spilling of water from the reservoir. The Itaipu hydroelectric power plant (Brazil and Paraguay) (Source: © Grigory Kubatyan / stock.adobe.com)
Penstocks of the Itaipu hydroelectric power plant (Brazil and Paraguay). The dam is 7.9 km long. (Source: © jantima / stock.adobe.com)
Cranes in the powerhouse of one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world, the Itaipu (Brazil and Paraguay). (Source: © Grigory Kubatyan / stock.adobe.com)
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Guri Dam (Simón Bolívar), Venezuela (map)

The highest situated hydroelectric power plant was built in Tibet at the Yamzho Yumco lake, over 4,400 meters above sea level.

The third biggest hydroelectric power plant in the world is the Guri in Venezuela. The construction of this plant started in 1963, the first phase was completed in 1978 and the second in 1986. The dam is 7,426 meters long and 162 meters high. 20 turbo-generators with a total installed capacity of 10,200 MW yearly produce 47,000 GWh of electricity.

Note: 47,000 GWh is the actual value of electric energy produced, 87,000 GWh could be theoretically produced if there was enough water.

The Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric power plant on the Yenisei river, Russia. (Source: © Евгений Кожевников / stock.adobe.com)
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The Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in the state of Washington, USA. With its installed capacity of 6,809 MW it is one of the most powerful hydroelectric power plants in the world. (Source: © Valerie Garner / stock.adobe.com)
On the left side of this dam we can see the powerhouses of the Grand Coulee hydroelectric power plant, (USA) and on the right side are the spillways, which protect the dam from damage caused by overflowing. (Source: © jdoms / stock.adobe.com)
Parking and rest area at the Grand Coulee hydroelectric power plant, Washington, USA. (Source: © jdoms / stock.adobe.com)
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Name Capacity Location Completed Reservoir surface
Three Gorges Dam 22 500 MW China 2009 1,000 km2
Itaipú Dam 14 000 MW Brazil/Paraguay 2003 1,350 km2
Xiluodu 13 860 MW China 2014  
Belo Monte 11 233 MW Brazil 2019 441 km2
Guri Dam (Simón Bolívar) 10 235 MW Venezuela 1986 4,250 km2
Tucuruí Dam 8 370 MW Brazil 1984 3,014 km2
Grand Coulee Dam 6 809 MW USA 1991 324 km2
Xiangjiaba 6 448 MW China 2014 95.6 km2
Longtan 6 426 MW China 2009  
Sayano-Shushenskaya 6 400 MW Russia 1989 621 km2
Krasnoyarsk Dam 6 000 MW Russia 1972 2,000 km2
Nuozhadu 5 850 MW China 2014 320 km2
Robert-Bourassa GS * 5 616 MW Canada 1981 2,835 km2
Churchill Falls 5 429 MW Canada 1974 6,988 km2
 
* Robert-Bourassa generating station
 

The Highest Hydraulic Head

The highest hydraulic head in the world is used by the Bieudron hydroelectric power plant in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. The Power plant is fed by water from the Grande Dixence reservoir (2,364 m AMSL) by a penstock with a maximum hydraulic head of 1,883 meters.

An artificial lake in the Reisseck area, Austria. (Source: © Chris / stock.adobe.com)
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The Austrian high-mountain natural environment of the Reisseck Alps with a dam in the background. (Source: © CHROMORANGE / stock.adobe.com)
The Reisseck cableway, Austria. (Source: © embeki / stock.adobe.com)
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