The Role of Small Hydropower (SHP) in China’s Energy Future
Jing Ma, a 2011 Sabin Fellow, completed a comprehensive analysis on Small Hydro Power projects (SHP) in rural areas of northwestern China in an effort to test the role SHP played in the past two decades. This research is important because China is the largest energy consumer in the world and 70% of their energy is produced from coal, which is carbon intensive and needs to be replaced by more sustainable energy sources. Her research focuses on rural areas in China that are facing great energy shortage challenges and the need to shift their energy reliance to less carbon intensive renewable energies. Small scale hydropower—such as micro, mini and small hydropower—is one of the most promising alternative energy sources to achieve sustainable growth. Thus it is important to test whether the SHPs are operating efficiently in terms of economic and environmental costs and benefits, and social impacts. This assessment is achieved in the study site Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu, China, by a series of interviews with local officials, SHP engineers, operators, owners, local community and a survey to the local population.
The result of on-site study shows that SHPs have a significant contribution to the local electrification process; the stable and affordable energy provided by SHPs is widely acknowledged by the local people. However, the impacts to local irrigation caused by SHPs operations and the expanding income gap between SHP owners and low income households have caused social tensions.
The on-going research will continue with a thorough analysis of the results of surveys and interviews as well as the economic analysis of cases with concrete numbers and a comprehensive assessment of the SHPs development over the two decades and its possible role in China’s energy future.