China’s water/energy problems and their influence on geopolitics

September 20, 2012

Water is a key component in energy production.  Most energy requires water – whether directly, as in hydropower dams or steam driven turbines, or indirectly via water used in mining and processing of fuels.  Yesterday, the Beyond Brics blog at the Financial Times noted that China, in particular, faces severe water shortages that could constrain their planned energy growth as much or more than will fuel shortages.   Last spring, Debra Tan at China Water Risk gave a more detailed overview of the shortfall that China will face in its water/energy nexus if it proceeds with its schedule power plant build schedule.  Tan uses 3D imagery (see below) to note that there might be a solution in exploiting hydropower potential below the Tibetan plateau, but this will no doubt only increase complaints from China’s downstream neighbors.  China Water Risk has a history of dismissing such fears, but her neighbors are not so easily mollified.

Map from China Water Risk, 2012

Chinese companies already dominate the global hydropower market, both internally as well as internationally.  These companies are a powerful – and growing – voice in Chinese governance, and their needs are increasingly influential in China’s geopolitical choices.


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