Understanding Hydropower in China: Balancing Energy Security, Development, and Environmental Sustainability in the Nu River Valley of Yunnan Province
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Research to date analyzing socioeconomic, social and environmental implications emanating from hydropower development in China has focused disproportionally on macro-scale projects, specifically large dams. The very size of these projects should not, but largely have, obscured other developments of significance; small hydropower operations. Small dams and diversion stations with an operating capacity of 50 Megawatts or less represent approximately a third of installed hydroelectric capacity in China. Recently, the proliferation of small hydropower has rapidly increased, particularly in Yunnan province. A belief that small hydropower operations are an environmentally sound alternative to burning coal, which contributes to China’s much publicized air quality issues and global climate challenges drives current development. However, despite the significance of small-scale projects, research to date has largely neglected their role. As a result of this ‘tunnel vision’, an integral component of China’s hydropower assemblage has received inadequate attention, remaining little known and less understood. This dissertation is the result of research that investigates small hydropower development in a rural and remote corner of China’s Nu river valley, located in the far northwest of Yunnan province. Objectives of the research were evaluating the effectiveness of small operations to promote socioeconomic development in rural and remote communities while contributing to China’s broader energy security demands. In addition, the research evaluated the ways hydropower development and the supply of electricity shaped the social circumstances in village communities of the upper Nu river valley. Finally, this research analyzed a range of environmental implications resulting from small operations that were both evident on local landscapes and in spaces far removed.