In an effort to ramp up its renewable energy production, China is on course to begin operations of its highest-altitude hydropower facility, which is being constructed on the upper reaches of the Yellow River. According to its operator, China Energy Investment Corp, known as China Energy, the Maerdang hydropower station will be the “highest-altitude facility of its kind” and is expected to start functioning in March 2024. 

The Maerdang project features a concrete-face rock-fill dam, and the initial construction began in 2012. According to a report by China Daily, the facility is constructed at 5,000 metres above sea level along the Yellow River in the country's Qinghai province.

The plant will have a total installed capacity of about 2.2 million kW, helping it to generate an average of more than 7.3 billion kWh of electricity per year when it runs to its total capacity.

China Energy says the hydroelectric project will help reduce 2.56 million metric tons of standard coal equivalent consumption and 8.16 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

A clean energy initiative to optimise resources

The Maerdang project will feature an integrated clean energy approach that includes hydropower, solar power, and energy storage. The project serves as an example of how China is leveraging its clean energy sources in its western regions to supply the growing national demand for energy. 

"The company vows to make sure the project is put into operation in time despite Covid-19 impacts during the past few years," said Li Hongxin, deputy director of Qinghai Maerdang Co Ltd, a unit of China Energy, told China Daily

China Energy's solar plant in Ningxia Hui autonomous region is also nearing completion with a total capacity of 3 million kW. The acceleration in renewable energy comes after the Chinese government outlined its plans to fasten the development of solar and wind power generation facilities across arid regions, which is part of its effort to promote renewable energy. 

Energy China said that the first phase of its plant in Ningxia Hui, with 1 million kW of capacity, would be functional soon. In contrast, the construction for the second phase, with 2 million kW, will commence shortly, with a planned completion date towards the end of the year. 

Role of renewable energy in China's efforts to turn green

As one of the world's largest energy consumers, the transition to renewable fuel sources is critical for China and the world. "Nationwide resumption of energy projects, including the construction of nuclear and hydropower plants, as well as wind and solar farms, will contribute to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change," said Lin Boqiang, head of the China Institute for Studies in Energy Policy at Xiamen University, in a conversation with China Daily

According to Lin, China is primarily self-sufficient regarding its energy requirements in contrast to other countries. The challenge for the Asian powerhouse is to transition into greener sources to meet its climate targets.