Hydropower Projects in Nepal and Myanmar Remain Uncertain

Via Future Directions International, a look at hydropower in Nepal and Myanmar:

Hydropower is the foundation of the Chinese transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. In the past two decades it has added more than 300GW of hydroelectricity to its grid. China sees itself as a global leader in the development of hydropower and is willing to help finance and build hydropower projects abroad. Those projects are often controversial, however, as regional actors are unsure of Beijing’s true intentions


Indian security analysts are concerned about China’s reasons for damming Tibetan rivers. They believe that dams could allow China to assert control over disputed regions (such as Arunachal Pradesh) and reduce water flows to India.

India is also competing with China for influence in Nepal. In November 2017, the previous Nepalese Government cancelled a Chinese loan for the construction of the Budhi Gandaki hydropower project; a decision that was reversed by Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli in September. His government is likely to continue to attempt to play off the two Asian powers against one another, to derive benefits for Nepal.

There is also growing speculation that China wishes to restart the Myitsone Dam project in Myanmar. The project was suspended by the Thein Sein administration after months of protests in 2011. The Chinese State Power Investment Corporation is reportedly ‘ramping up efforts to lobby residents’ to overcome objections to the project. Myanmar has recently resurfaced as a piece of the Chinese influence building strategy in the Indian Ocean region, with the negotiation of an agreement for the development of a deep-water port at Kyaukphyu. As the Myitsone Dam project remains unpopular in Myanmar, however, any attempt to restart it is likely to lead to an increase in protests.

It is not only geostrategic concerns that call Chinese hydropower projects into question. The International Energy Agency and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changecontinue to see hydropower as a vital component of the transition away from fossil fuels, but others see it as a costly and inefficient source of renewable energy. While hydropower development continues to increase globally, the rate of growth has declined to its lowest level in more than a decade. That suggests that there is a growing global uncertainty about the long-term utility of the technology.

Advances in solar and wind power, and energy storage technologies, mean that hydropower is not always the most appropriate renewable energy source. Furthermore, there are often delays and cost overruns in the construction of hydropower projects, as well as large environmental and social costs once they are built. While hydropower remains a contentious energy option, there are studies that suggest that, in most cases, ‘large hydropower dams will be too costly in absolute terms and take too long to build to deliver a positive risk-adjusted return’. Increased competition for water and declining river flows, caused in part by climate change, are also likely to weaken the power generating potential of hydropower projects.

Chinese hydropower projects are likely to continue to be controversial in Asia. Due to uncertainty about Beijing’s real intentions and the continuing development of alternative renewable sources of energy, it is questionable whether they will actually be built.

This entry was posted on Thursday, December 6th, 2018 at 12:38 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”