Power players: the world’s biggest power stations

Water rushing through the gates at Three Gorges Dam in China (biggest power)
Three Gorges Dam in China (Image: Shutterstock)

Energy Source & Distribution lists the world’s top five biggest power stations by generation capacity—all hydroelectric power plants.

1. Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam, China (Image: Shutterstock)

Located in central China’s Hubei province, the Three Gorges Dam is a hydroelectric gravity dam that spans the Yangtze River. Managed by China Yangtze Power, the Three Gorges Dam boasts 32 main generators, each with a capacity of 700MW, and two plant power generators, each with capacity of 50MW, and is the world’s biggest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500MW). The dam generates an average 95±20TWh of electricity per year, depending on annual amount of rain. After the extensive monsoon rainfalls of 2020, the dam’s annual production nearly reached 112TWh, breaking the previous world record of ~103TWh set by Itaipu Dam in 2016.

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2. Itaipu Dam

Itaipu Dam, Brazil/Paraguay (Image: Shutterstock)

Straddling the Paraná River bordering Brazil and Paraguay, Itaipu Dam’s hydroelectric power plant is run by both countries. The installed generation capacity of the plant is 14GW, with 20 generating units providing 700MW each. Of the 20 generator units currently installed, 10 generate at 50Hz for Paraguay while the other half generate at 60Hz for Brazil. Since the output capacity of the Paraguayan generators far exceeds the load in Paraguay, most of their production is exported directly to the Brazilian side, from where two 600 kV HVDC lines, each approximately 800km long, carry the majority of the energy to the São Paulo/Rio de Janeiro region where the terminal equipment converts the power to 60Hz.

3. Xiluodu Dam

Xiluodu Dam, China (Image: Shutterstock)

The Xiluodu Dam is an arch dam on the Jinsha River—the upper course of the Yangtze in China. The structure straddles into Leibo County of Sichuan Province on the opposite side of the river. The primary purpose of the dam is hydroelectric power generation and its power station has an installed capacity of 13,860MW. Additionally, the dam provides for flood control, silt control and its regulated water releases are intended to improve navigation downstream. It is operated by China Yangtze Power and is currently the third-largest power station with the fourth-tallest dam in the world.

4. Belo Monte Dam

Belo Monte Dam, Brazil (Image: Shutterstock)

The Belo Monte Dam (formerly known as Kararaô) is a hydroelectric dam complex on the northern part of the Xingu River in the state of Pará, Brazil. Operated by Eletronorte, Belo Monte has a capacity of 11,233MW, which makes it the second largest hydroelectric dam complex in Brazil and fourth largest in the world. Shortly before the planned installation of the dam’s last (18th) turbine in November 2019, it was revealed that catastrophic failure of the dam was possible due to exposure of an unprotected area of the dam wall to wave action in the then prevailing low water level. In an October 2019 Norte Energia report, the company’s CEO requested more water from an intermediate reservoir to add to the dangerously low 95.2m water level.

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5. Guri Dam

Guri Dam, Venezuela (Image: Shutterstock)

The Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Plant, also Guri Dam and previously known as the Raúl Leoni Hydroelectric Plant, is a concrete gravity and embankment dam in Bolívar State, Venezuela, on the Caroni River. It is 7,426m long and 162m high, and its power plant has a total installed capacity of 10,235MW. On March 7, 2019, the hydroelectric plant failed, leaving most of Venezuela’s 32 million citizens in darkness. In the days following the onset of the blackout, at least four attempts were made to restart the key San Gerónimo B substation, which distributes 80 per cent of the country’s electricity, but all failed, and no date was set for the plant’s reactivation. Government officials claim the blackout was “an act of sabotage”, while experts attributed the failure to ageing infrastructure and insufficient maintenance.

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