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Most expensive hydropower dams

hydropower dam spillway cost

Some time ago I read an article about the Zungero hydropower dam (Nigeria). The article pointed that Nigeria people was concerned because the total cost of the 700 MW project was 1.3 billion $US; that is 1.87 million $US per MW; a price they considered to be excessive (the title suggested the most expensive in the world).

I compared the Zungero dam price with the price of the hydropower dam project Chepete (Bolivia) which is also a very controversial project, not only because of its cost but also because of its potential disastrous consequences and several observations about its feasibility. According to the executive summary, Chepete will have a cost of 1.92 billion $US per MW; more expensive than Zungeru.

However, it would not be fair to consider Chepete as the most expensive hydropower because of one single comparison. The following table shows a comparison of some of the most controversial mega hydropower dams. Once again, Chepete is the most expensive hydropower project in world.

Hydropower Country Power [MW] Cost [B $US] Power cost [M$US / KW] Note
3 Gorges China 22 500 37 1.64 Source
Itaipu Brazil/Paraguay 14 000 19.6 1.40 Source
Belo Monte Brazil 11 233 14.4 1.28 Source
Xiluodo China 12 600 6.2 0.49 Source
Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Ethiopia 6 000 4.7 0.78 Source
Baihetan China 12 000 13.5 1.13 Source
Grand Inga Congo DR 40 000 80 2.00 Source
Chepete Bolivia 3 300 6.34 1.92 Source

There is a possibility that the Grand Inga Dam (Congo D.R.) may be more expensive (there is still not much data about this Mega project that would be the biggest hydropower dam in the world, with an installed power 12 times higher than Chepete).

It is important to note that the cost of Chepete considered only the construction cost reported by the respective studies. There are additional costs that will certainly increase the total cost of Chepete, for instance:
  • Chepete will require a power transmission line longer than 1 000 km across the Amazonia.
  • Chepete is located on the Beni river, a river with a very high sediment load; Beni river could be considered as a river among the 10 rivers with highest sediment load. Thus, it may have high maintenance costs that will increase the total cost.
  • Big hydropower dams usually have high overcosts between 26% - 90% of the initial budget.
  • Chepete will affect a very fragile ecosystem and the environmental costs may be expected to be high with several additional negative consequences,
Although this data is not enough for defining the single most expensive hydropower dam, we can assume with high confidence that Chepete would among the most expensive hydropower dams (if built).


Lucio said...

Nice work! Have you considered whether this can be also explained by inflation? would it be worth looking at the date each dam was constructed? It might be worth comparing El Chepete with other dams that are currently planned / under construction rather than past dams. All the best

Vadyman said...

Thanks, good point. I did not check inflation. However, 4 of the 7 mentioned dams are still under contruction or under design, and Xiluodo was completed just 2015. So, inflation may be negligible (or minimum influence) respect to those 5 dams. The only finished ones are 3gorges (2009) and Itaipu

Lucio said...

That's useful to know, it does look convincing. Are there other dams in South America that are currently being planned and for which costs are available? It might help make an even stronger case against El Chepete.

Vadyman said...

Thanks for the suggestion. Indeed, there are several small dams in Brazil. Will try to get info about them