Yangtze River Cruise Part III: The Three Gorges Dam

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I was really quite excited to visit the Three Gorges Dam. It’s a bit nerdy, [and primarily due to having worked in the electricity industry in Australia for about six years] but the idea of visiting the largest hydroelectric dam project in the world seemed pretty cool. I had this idea that we’d be able to tour the project and see how it all worked and it would be really educational and inspiring…

Of course, this wasn’t the case at all. We couldn’t go inside and check out how the world’s largest power station [in terms of installed capacity] actually worked. No, we could only look from a distance and see a model of the project. Still, it was interesting. Anything built in Australia tends to go massively over the estimated budget but apparently the Three Gorges Dam project actually came in under budget – and that was a massive 180 billion yuan budget. It didn’t come cheap, but you don’t exactly expect a plant with an installed capacity of 18200 megawatt generation to.

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We arrived by bus – we’d taken the bus from the ship directly to the Three Gorges Project, stopping briefly to go through a security check – and would be continuing on that bus to Yichang East Railway Station afterwards. Our first stop was at the bottom of a hill. However, this is China, and unless it’s a sacred site no one here likes walking up hills. There were a series of outdoor escalators all the way to the top, although I’ll admit we chose to disregard the safety warnings and not hold onto the burning handrails. At the top was a memorial and a nice path to follow to view the dam.

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There was, of course, the mandatory souvenir shop selling absolutely nothing to do with the hydroelectric project but with a reasonable selection of overpriced daggy hats and t-shirts. They also had a model of the dam showing the sheer size of the plant, quite inspiring.

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On the walls they had information boards, and the amount of electricity generated each year by the plant is enormous – apparently in 2012, 98,100,000 megawatt hours of electricity were generated. In comparison, Snowy Hydro – a hydroelectric project in Australia – produces 4,500,000 megawatt hours of electricity each year. However, what they didn’t tell you was what percentage of China’s electricity consumption this covers. We found out later this accounts for only 3% of China’s annual consumption. It’s a frightening thought!

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From there we walked downhill to another set of escalators – apparently going down steps is also too challenging – to a platform where we could overlook the ship lock. It wasn’t that exciting as we couldn’t see anything actually happening, but the scale of the infrastructure was impressive.

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Next we took a little electric shuttle bus to a museum with a stack of information in Chinese and paintings of the Yangtze River before it was dammed. And then it was onto another electric shuttle and off to the final viewing platform.

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If I was disappointed by being unable to visit the interior and see how the plant actually worked, I wasn’t entirely surprised by this. It was still interesting to view the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, producing huge amounts of renewable energy for a country so polluted that it needs all the relatively ‘clean’ energy it can get, from the outside and see just how extensive the project is.

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