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Yarlung Zangbo Dam: three times the Three Gorges Dam?

Chinese government decided to implement hydroelectrical production in Yarlung Zangbo River. Yarlung Zangbo (also called Yarlung Tsangpo) is a river coming down from Western Tibetan mountains, and it flows in three different countries: China, Bangladesh, and India.

The massive value of Yarlung Zangbo as an energy source

File:Brahmaputra River, Shigatse.jpg
Yarlung Zangbo in Shigatse Prefecture, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Source: Wikipedia

Yan Zhiyong, chairman of the state-owned POWERCHINA, considers this plan as part of the long term goals of the country. As a matter of fact, China is shifting more and more towards renewable energy sources, and its commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060 can only speed up such a change.
The project would produce more than three times the output of the Three Gorges Dam, which is already the biggest hydroelectric factory of the world.
The Global Times reports the words of Yan Zhiyong: “There is no parallel in history… it will be a historic opportunity for the Chinese hydropower industry”.

Technicities about Yarlung Zangbo

Yarlung Zangbo is a good site to test Chinese engineering in difficult terrain such as the Tibetan area. While the work behind the Three Gorges Dam is immense and shows the incredible efforts of the Chinese nation, Yarlung Zangbo seems to be on another level for many different reasons. First, the location: it is much less accessible. Second, the Three Gorges Dam is close to different cities, quite in the center of China. A project involving this river is much more decentralized geographically and technically more difficult.

The Three Gorges Dam in Yicheng, Hubei. Source: Britannica

This brings to the third point: what will be done with the energy produced?
It is likely that it will cover Tibet’s needs and be exported to the neighboring Chinese provinces. China could also export the clean electricity produced to the neighbors of Bangladesh and India.
Furthermore, Tibet alone accounts for almost one third of the whole Chinese water resources. It is possible that this project, which is limited only to a specific section of the river, will open investment for other projects elsewhere in Tibet, to the benefit of the relatively underdeveloped region.

Economic Consequences for Tibet and China

The approved segment for Yarlung Zangbo river may produce about 300 TWh of renewable electricity per year. This alone would satisfy a bit more than 4% of the entire Chinese yearly consumption, which was more than 7.2 PWh in 2019. By comparison, the United States consumed 4.2 PWh in the same year.
On a per capita basis, this means 5.14 MWh are consumed in China by every individual, while in US the consumption is 12.7 MWh2.5 times as much. Still, Chinese consumption is increasing together with its reliance on renewable resources and economic development.

Chinese energy consumption is going up as time passes

Projects such as Yarlung Zangbo are actually needed to support the Chinese economic growth while decreasing pollution rates.
Furthermore, the value of the project amounts to around 20 Billion RMB per year for the Tibet Autonomous Region. This may help Tibet become more self-sufficient as it still strongly relies on Central Government subsidizing.

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