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December 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-12


Water, Water Everywhere, but Not a Drop for Power


Hydroelectric Power Worldwide



In contrast to the reduction of hydroelectric power use in the U.S., one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world was recently built at the Itaipu’ Dam in Brazil/Paraguay. Completed in 1991, it took 16 years to build and in 2000 generated over 93,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, a world record.[20]


Even more recently the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China became fully operational when the last 32 turbines began operation in 2012. The dam began operating in 2003 and can generate 22.5 megawatts of electricity, or the same power as fifteen nuclear reactors. The construction cost was $22.5 billion, and construction displaced many people and towns.[21] Unfortunately, the controversy over the planning and building of the Three Gorges Dam did not help the image of hydroelectric power, either in China or the U.S. Hydropower generates about 16 percent (150 gigawatts) of the total electricity used in China, followed by coal.


Following the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, China is moving forward with many new and even larger projects, with a goal of 700 total gigawatts of new capacity in the next few years.[22] This all contributes to the status of “hydroelectric developments (as) the largest provider of electric energy from a renewable source in the world,” according to Executive Vice President David Carter of Regional Power, based in Ontario, Canada.[23]




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