China has announced plans to ramp up its hydro-pumped storage capacity by as much as 400% to bolster the nation’s fast-growing solar and wind power facilities.
A 2021-2035 development plan issued by China’s National Energy Administration outlines ambitions to increase China’s pumped hydro capacity, currently around 32 GW, to 62 GW by 2025 and 120 GW by 2050.
The rapid expansion of hydropower capacity will mean the needs of other large green infrastructure projects can be met, helping China make good on its promise to reach peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, according to the development plan.
Pumped storage involves moving vast amounts of water from reservoirs at low altitudes to similar facilities at higher altitudes. The energy used to pump water from reservoir to reservoir is provided by an excess supply of either solar or wind energy.
When hydro and solar facilities are low on power – for example, due to a lack of sunlight – water stored at high elevation can be released, powering turbines with the assistance of gravity, while easing the burden on solar and wind plants.
China’s mountainous landscape is an ideal fit for stored hydropower and the nation is also home to some of the biggest hydropower builders, including China Three Gorges Corp, the company responsible for building the $200 billion Three Gorges Dam along the Yangtze River.
At the 2020 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Chinese president, Xi Jinping, made the bold proclamation that China, the Earth’s chief polluter, would become carbon neutral by 2060, surprising the international community.
Thom Woodroofe, former climate diplomat and current senior advisor at the Asia Society, called China’s “green recovery” a game-changer, saying China has a clear, long-term trajectory towards decarbonisation for the first time.
Xin Baoan, executive chairman of the State Grid Corp, said his group has 23 GW of operational pumped hydro at present, with the number to increase to nearly 100 GW by the end of 2030.
The energy utility has projects underway that will add around 49 GW to capacity – the biggest project being the 3.6 GW Fengning pumped storage power facility which, on completion, will be the largest pumped hydro station in the world.
Whether China can deliver on its intentions has drawn mixed responses from the international community. Dennis Ip, head of renewables and utilities at Daiwa Capital Markets, pointed out that between 2015 and 2020, China fell 21% percent short of its 40 GW target, adding that China may not have realistic targets.
However, Richard Baron, executive director at the NGO, 2050 Pathways Platform, said China’s goals are achievable and that Xi’s targets at UNGA 2020 made the mission for carbon neutrality clearer.