Hydropower and End-Use Electrical Efficiency in China: State Support and Potential Contribution to Low-Carbon Development


  • Darrin Magee




China, Power Sector, Energy Efficiency, Hydropower, Energy Policy, Electricity


This article examines Chinese state support for two 'new energies'—large hydropower and end-use efficiency—that aims to help meet ambitious national targets for renewable energy and emissions reduction. Large hydropower, while not particularly new, figures prominently in China's renewable energy targets and is considered key to achieving renewable output and carbon reduction goals. National policies promote widespread development of Gigawatt-scale hydropower cascades on China's major rivers, even though the negative impacts are significant and the operating capacities of large dams are often low. On transboundary rivers, China's dam development raises concerns downstream. Increasing the end-use efficiency of electricity represents a more subtle approach that holds great promise for managing demand and potentially curbing new supply. China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has overseen experimentation with utility-scale 'efficiency power plants' that free up inefficiently-used electricity, resulting in greater power availability on the grid. A study by NDRC's Energy Research Institute (ERI) estimated that a high penetration rate of LED lighting by 2020, once China completes its phase-out of incandescent bulbs, would alone save as much electricity annually as the Three Gorges Dam produces. This article demonstrates the potential for an efficiency-led approach to meeting China's electricity needs.

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