Visualizing the World's Largest Hydroelectric Dams
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Visualizing the World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

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largest hydroelectric dams

Visualizing the World’s Largest Hydroelectric Dams

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Did you know that hydroelectricity is the world’s biggest source of renewable energy? According to recent figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), it represents 40% of total capacity, ahead of solar (28%) and wind (27%).

This type of energy is generated by hydroelectric power stations, which are essentially large dams that use the water flow to spin a turbine. They can also serve secondary functions such as flow monitoring and flood control.

To help you learn more about hydropower, we’ve visualized the five largest hydroelectric dams in the world, ranked by their maximum output.

Overview of the Data

The following table lists key information about the five dams shown in this graphic, as of 2021. Installed capacity is the maximum amount of power that a plant can generate under full load.

CountryDamRiverInstalled Capacity
(gigawatts)
Dimensions
(meters)
🇨🇳 ChinaThree Gorges DamYangtze River22.5181 x 2,335
🇧🇷 Brazil / 🇵🇾 ParaguayItaipu DamParana River14.0196 x 7,919
🇨🇳 ChinaXiluodu DamJinsha River13.9286 x 700
🇧🇷 BrazilBelo Monte DamXingu River11.290 X 3,545
🇻🇪 VenezuelaGuri DamCaroni River10.2162 x 7,426

At the top of the list is China’s Three Gorges Dam, which opened in 2003. It has an installed capacity of 22.5 gigawatts (GW), which is close to double the second-place Itaipu Dam.

In terms of annual output, the Itaipu Dam actually produces about the same amount of electricity. This is because the Parana River has a low seasonal variance, meaning the flow rate changes very little throughout the year. On the other hand, the Yangtze River has a significant drop in flow for several months of the year.

For a point of comparison, here is the installed capacity of the world’s three largest solar power plants, also as of 2021:

  • Bhadla Solar Park, India: 2.2 GW
  • Hainan Solar Park, China: 2.2 GW
  • Pavagada Solar Park, India: 2.1 GW

Compared to our largest dams, solar plants have a much lower installed capacity. However, in terms of cost (cents per kilowatt-hour), the two are actually quite even.

Closer Look: Three Gorges Dam

The Three Gorges Dam is an engineering marvel, costing over $32 billion to construct. To wrap your head around its massive scale, consider the following facts:

  • The Three Gorges Reservoir (which feeds the dam) contains 39 trillion kg of water (42 billion tons)
  • In terms of area, the reservoir spans 400 square miles (1,045 square km)
  • The mass of this reservoir is large enough to slow the Earth’s rotation by 0.06 microseconds

Of course, any man-made structure this large is bound to have a profound impact on the environment. In a 2010 study, it was found that the dam has triggered over 3,000 earthquakes and landslides since 2003.

The Consequences of Hydroelectric Dams

While hydropower can be cost-effective, there are some legitimate concerns about its long-term sustainability.

For starters, hydroelectric dams require large upstream reservoirs to ensure a consistent supply of water. Flooding new areas of land can disrupt wildlife, degrade water quality, and even cause natural disasters like earthquakes.

Dams can also disrupt the natural flow of rivers. Other studies have found that millions of people living downstream from large dams suffer from food insecurity and flooding.

Whereas the benefits have generally been delivered to urban centers or industrial-scale agricultural developments, river-dependent populations located downstream of dams have experienced a difficult upheaval of their livelihoods.
– Richter, B.D. et al. (2010)

Perhaps the greatest risk to hydropower is climate change itself. For example, due to the rising frequency of droughts, hydroelectric dams in places like California are becoming significantly less economical.

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Energy

What are the Benefits of Fusion Energy?

One of the most promising technologies, fusion, has attracted the attention of governments and private companies.

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General-Fusion_Benefits-of-Fusion
The following content is sponsored by General Fusion

What are The Benefits of Fusion Energy?

As the world moves towards net-zero emissions, sustainable and affordable power sources are urgently needed by humanity.

One of the most promising technologies, fusion, has attracted the attention of governments and private companies like Chevron and Google. In fact, Bloomberg Intelligence has estimated that the fusion market may eventually be valued at $40 trillion.

In this infographic sponsored by General Fusion, we discuss the benefits of fusion as a clean energy source.

The Ultimate Source of Energy 

Fusion powers the sun and the stars, where the immense force of gravity compresses and heats hydrogen plasma, fusing it into helium and releasing enormous amounts of energy. Here on Earth, scientists use isotopes of hydrogen—deuterium and tritium—to power fusion plants.

Fusion energy offers a wide range of benefits, such as:

1. Ample resources:

Both atoms necessary for nuclear fusion are abundant on Earth: deuterium is found in seawater, while tritium can be produced from lithium.

2. Sustainable

Energy-dense generation like fusion minimizes land use needs and can replace aging infrastructure like old power plants. 

3. Clean

There are no CO₂ or other harmful atmospheric emissions from the fusion process.

4. Scalable

With limited expected regulatory burden or export controls, fusion scales effectively with a small land footprint that can be located close to cities.

5. Safety advantage

Unlike atomic fission, fusion does not create any long-lived radioactive nuclear waste. Its radiation profile is similar to widely used medical and industrial applications like cyclotrons for cancer treatment.

6. Reliable

Fusion energy is on-demand and independent from the weather, making it an excellent option in a dependable portfolio for power generation.

Commercializing Fusion Energy

More than 130 countries have now set or are considering a target of reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050. Meanwhile, global energy demand is expected to increase by 47% in the next 30 years.

While renewables like wind and solar are intermittent and need a baseload source of clean energy to supplement them, fusion, when commercially implemented, could deliver clean, abundant, reliable, and cost-competitive energy. 

General Fusion seeks to transform the world’s energy supply with the most practical path to commercial fusion energy. Click here to learn more.

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Ranked: Latin American Countries By Green Energy Use

Countries around the world are looking to decarbonize, but Latin America is leading the charge in green energy usage.

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This graphic shows how much electricity production Latin American countries derive from green energy relative to fossil fuels

Ranked: Latin American Countries By Green Energy Use

The global push for increasing green energy use is well underway, as countries around the world are feeling pressure to revamp their climate-impacting practices.

But with different populations, energy use requirements, and access to natural resources, certain regions will have a more significant role to play. With a population of 664 million and an abundance of natural resources, Latin America (LatAm) is one such region.

How green is LatAm’s energy today? This graphic from Latinometrics charts countries’ electricity production from renewables relative to fossil fuels and highlights the significant disparities between certain nations.

Green Energy Use in Latin America

As of 2020, many LatAm countries actually produced 50% or more of their electricity from renewable sources including nuclear energy. Let’s take a deeper look at some of the outliers:

Paraguay

Hydropower is Paraguay’s primary renewable energy source, and plentiful. In fact, the country produces surplus electricity and exports the remainder to Argentina and Brazil. Altogether, 60% of Paraguay’s hydroelectric power is exported, contributing to 6% of its GDP.

The primary resource for this hydropower—the Itaipú Dam—sits between Paraguay and Brazil and is jointly owned by both. The dam is responsible for 79% of Paraguay’s total power capacity.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been running on at least 98% renewable energy since 2014. Both within the Americas and on a global scale, the country’s green energy usage ranks extremely high, primarily driven by hydropower:

Costa Rica's Renewable Energy Sources% of Renewable Energy (2019)
Hydropower67.5%
Wind power17.0%
Geothermal power13.5%
Backup plants1.16%
Solar panels0.84%

But notably, Costa Rica’s volcanoes are also utilized as a source of geothermal power.

Mexico

Mexico ranks considerably lower on the green energy spectrum. The country produces 303 TWh (Terrawatt hours) of electricity a year, but over two-thirds comes from fossil fuel sources.

Lately, intense political discussions within Mexico have emerged regarding energy policies. The country has attractive solar energy potential, with some of the greatest levels of sunlight globally, but has yet to fully tap into this renewable source. Recent actions from the current administration is reversing prior decisions towards renewables and is prioritizing domestic coal production, whilst enabling anti-competitive practices for state-owned entities.

Based on current assessments by energy analysts, Mexico may see increases in carbon emissions in the decades to come.

Brazil

Brazil is Latin America’s largest economy and the 12th largest in the world, with a GDP of about $1.5 trillion. Its oil industry remains a crucial component of the economy and ranks 9th in the world by output—producing roughly 3.2 million barrels a day.

While this may suggest Brazil relies heavily on fossil fuels, the country’s electricity production from green energy actually ranks extremely high. Of Brazil’s 606 TWh of electricity produced per year, 86% comes from nuclear or renewable sources.

Given its size and strength, Brazil is positioned to act as a leader within the continent on the path to net-zero. In 2021, Brazil dedicated $12 billion in investments towards energy transitions, putting it in the top 10 countries by spending.

Argentina

Relative to its more green-energy friendly neighbors, Argentina is falling behind on its renewable energy efforts. It produces 135 TWh of electricity per year, but only around 30% comes from nuclear or renewable energy.

Extended periods of economic instability are a driving cause, which are constantly shifting the country’s priorities elsewhere. Some years ago, it launched the Argentina Renewable Energy Auction program to try and improve renewable electricity production by 2025, but many projects were scrapped due to financing issues.

However, southern Argentina is a particularly windy region within Latin America, making it a desirable spot for future wind power generation and investment.

How LatAm Compares on a Global Scale

More than a quarter of LatAm’s energy comes from renewable energy, double the global average.

While countries around the world are striving for renewable energy to make up half or more of electricity generation by 2050, nearly two-thirds of LatAm countries have already done so. Additionally, Paraguay is one of only seven countries in the world to derive 100% of its electricity production from green energy.

How will other countries by influenced by Latin America’s green energy leaders in the years to come, and how will the region’s green energy usage evolve?

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