China: Water conservancy & hydropower engineering

Effectively managing huge construction projects and efficiently harnessing vast water resources becomes more critical as demand for energy increases along with environmental concerns.

By Jiuping Xu

The Three Gorges Dam, which spans the Yangtze River in Yichang, Hubei Province, China, is the world’s largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW).

The Three Gorges Dam, which spans the Yangtze River in Yichang, Hubei Province, China, is the world’s largest power station in terms of installed capacity (22,500 MW).

Civilization initially developed beside rivers and, as people’s understanding of nature grew and societies matured, the resulting demands led to the development of water conservancy and hydropower engineering projects. The first embankment dam built in ancient Egypt around 2,900 B.C. was an example of early water conservancy engineering. The legend of Great Yu, who controlled the waters in the Chinese heartland around 2,000 B.C., also reflected the wisdom of the ancestors. Around 1,754 B.C., the promulgation of the Code of Hammurabi started the civilization of the spirit of the water. The Law of the Twelve Tables, enacted around 450 B.C, gave rise to the water resources allocation equity principle and was the source of Ronald Harry Coase’s thoughts on property rights theory. The Dujiangyan Irrigation system built in 256 B.C. was an engineering masterpiece in the history of hydraulic engineering project development. Over more than 5,000 years, water conservancy and hydropower engineering has been developed from the wisdom of many sages. In 1878, the first modern dam was built in France and four years later in 1882, the first hydropower station was built in Wisconsin in the United States, after which water conservancy and hydropower projects spread rapidly around the world. Today, large-scale water conservancy and hydropower engineering construction projects have become not only critical infrastructure for renewable energy development, but also strategic projects for the trade-off between economic development and ecological balance in river basins.

Scale and Distribution of Hydropower Resources in China

The world hydropower resources reserves are around 5.05 billion kilowatts (KW), of which China accounts for 694 million KW, ranking first in the world for both technical and economically available exploitation quantities. The installed capacity of economically available hydropower resources in China is about 541.6 million KW, and the annual generating capacity is about 2,474 billion KW, which is equivalent to an annual supply of 960 million tonnes of standard coal or 720 million tonnes of heavy oil. By 2015, China’s hydropower installed capacity had reached around 325 million KW, with a revised future target set of 430 million KW (up from 380 million KW) by 2020. About 78 percent of the economically available hydropower resources in China are concentrated in the west, and are unevenly distributed in the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River, the middle and lower reaches of the Yarlung Zangbo River, the Yalong River, the Lancang River, the Dadu River and others in 11 administrative areas including provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. With the above advantageous geographical conditions, the State Key Laboratory of Hydraulics and Mountain River Engineering at Sichuan University in southwest China has responsibility for the study and management of all relevant technical and environmental issues related to the water conservancy and hydropower engineering construction projects.

Necessity and Importance of Chinese Hydropower Resources Development

China became the second largest economy in the world behind the United States in 2015. This rapid economic growth has resulted in an increasing demand for energy, the exploitation of which has caused serious environmental issues, such as atmospheric haze, carbon emissions and water pollution. Coal remains the major source of China’s total energy consumption, accounting for 64.5 percent in 2015. The second largest source, petroleum and other liquids, accounts for nearly 20 percent of China’s total energy consumption.

In an effort to reduce the severe air pollution that has afflicted certain areas of the country in recent years, the Chinese government plans to diversify its energy consumption structure by increasing renewable energy development. Hydropower is the most widely used form of renewable energy in China, and it has an extremely important position because China is ranked first in the world for available water resources, having around one-sixth of all water resources. However, compared with developed countries, hydropower resources development and utilization level in China is less than 40 percent of the economically available exploitation sources. Therefore, the potential for long-term hydropower resource development is significant.

Reason for Choosing Meta-synthesis Management

With the rapid developments in water conservancy and hydropower dam construction engineering technology, China has now entered an era of river basin cascade development, resulting in a significant increase in large-scale water conservancy and hydropower dam construction. The projects that are planned or under construction are increasingly complex in terms of capacity and investment, and contribute significantly to the promotion of economic development in the western areas of China. However, due to the massive construction size, complicated geographic situations, and difficult transportation and climatic conditions, large-scale water conservancy and hydropower dam construction management is facing unprecedented challenges. Construction plans formulated in advance are usually unable to adapt to the changes on the ground. These decision conflicts between the multiple construction sectors can lead to low resource allocation efficiency, construction delays, serious investment wastage and construction safety problems. Therefore, improving the efficiency, quality and safety of large-scale water conservancy and hydropower dam construction and realizing the optimal benefit of hydropower resources exploitation are critical current concerns.

Large-scale water conservancy and hydropower engineering construction projects are complex hierarchical and dynamic systems that can be divided into four stages: construction planning, materials purchasing and distribution, earthwork construction and concreting construction. The eight key problems encountered in these four stages include: 1) construction site layout, 2) materials purchasing and inventory, 3) hazmat transportation, 4) project scheduling, 5) earthwork allocation, 6) navigation scheduling, 7) equipment allocation, and 8) concrete pouring as shown in Figure 1. The inherent system complexities and interdependent characteristics of the construction system have motivated the development of a meta-synthesis management methodology to realize lean management for large-scale water conservancy and hydropower dam construction.

Figure 1: Problem map for the construction process of the main sections of large-scale water conservancy and hydropower engineering projects.

Figure 1: Problem map for the construction process of the main sections of large-scale water conservancy and hydropower engineering projects.

Eight Key Challenging Problems for Hydropower Dam Construction

In October 2007, a research team comprised of professors, engineers, postdoctoral fellows and Ph.D. candidates was established at the State Key Laboratory of Hydraulics and Mountain River Engineering with support from the China Three Gorges Corporation, the Yalong River Hydropower Development Company, Ltd., the Dadu River Hydropower Development Co., Ltd., the China Guodian Corporation and others. A research platform was consequently developed between the university research center and the hydropower development companies. Since then, the research team has focused on meta-synthesis management for large-scale water conservancy and hydropower engineering construction projects, and has participated in the construction of many of these projects.

The research team’s studies have included developing multi-objective, multistage and multilevel model groups to solve complex problems encountered in the construction process, such as transportation network optimization, vehicle routing selection, construction site layout and planning, project scheduling, construction materials inventory management, resource sharing-based equipment dynamic allocation with uncertainty, among others. To develop the theory and methodological system for the meta-synthesis management, investment management, project organization, construction planning, construction control, benefit evaluations and information integration have also been considered. The theoretical part of the team’s research has been summarized in five books published by well-known publishers such as Springer and Taylor & Francis, and more than 60 academic papers have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

To promote sustainable hydropower dam construction under the meta-synthesis methodological framework, the team proposed the idea of ecological-based engineering management (Xu and Li 2012). Based on long-term research and practice, the team identified eight key challenging problems similar to those outlined above that were encountered in different, specific projects: 1) concrete transportation network optimization at the Jinping-I High Arch Dam Hydropower Project; 2) dynamic construction site layout and planning at the Longtan Hydropower Project; 3) project scheduling of large-scale deeply-buried tunnel group projects at the Jinping-II Hydropower Project; 4) multi-item dynamic purchasing and inventory control for construction materials at the Xiaolangdi Hydropower Project; 5) optimal control of resource sharing-based equipment and dynamic allocation with uncertainty at the Shuibuya Hydropower Project; 6) earth rock allocation and transportation under a multiple decision-maker environment at the Ertan Hydropower Project; 7) navigation coordinated scheduling for large-scale cascaded hydropower construction projects at the Three Gorges Dam Project; and 8) hazmat transportation network design with emergency response under uncertainty at the Pubugou Hydropower Project.

By combining system science and mathematical theories and methodologies, the team developed a decision and technological innovative paradigm called the “Theory Spectrum-Model Group-Algorithm Cluster” (“TS-MG-AC”) paradigm, which has contributed to the study of the key problems using multivariant subjects, multilevel structures and multiple objectives to solve the eight key problems. These important modeling methods were summarized as classical methodologies for case studies in two books (Xu and Zeng 2014; Xu and Tao 2011).

Applications to Chinese Hydropower Projects

The developed modeling approaches and algorithms have been applied to and implemented in several hydropower construction projects, including the Three Gorges Dam Project, the Jingping-I Hydropower Project, the Jingping-II Hydropower Project, the Longtan Hydropower Project and the Pubogou Hydropower Project. Taking the Jinping-I Hydropower Construction Project as an example (see Figure 2), the meta-synthesis management for the concrete transportation system significantly improved construction efficiency, with the net reduction in total operating costs for the concrete transportation system being about 4.17 million RMB (1 Chinese yuan = 0.1527 U.S. dollars) less than the planned budget, a reduction of about 7.33 percent. Further, the application of the meta-synthesis management also resulted in a net reduction in the total construction duration of about 3.97 months, a reduction of 6.91 percent. These construction efficiency improvements, therefore, brought considerable economic benefit to large-scale construction projects (Zeng et al. 2014).

Figure 2: Meta-synthesis management applied to the multistage optimization of the concrete transportation system at the Jingping-I Hydropower Construction Project.

Figure 2: Meta-synthesis management applied to the multistage optimization of the concrete transportation system at the Jingping-I Hydropower Construction Project.

Application to the Dujiangyan Longquanshan Irrigation System

For water conservancy management, the research team also developed the principle of multilevel water resource allocation optimization, especially for the bi-level optimization of regional water resource allocation and constructed wetland planning. Because of the new emerging problems arising out of the effects of climate change, we proposed and defined a leading-edge Stackelberg-Nash-Cournot dynamic equilibrium for multilevel water resource allocation. This work revealed the internal mechanism for the irregular distribution of water resources for climate change events, and explained the multilevel decision conflict structure in regional water resource allocation. This research work has assisted the Administration Bureau at the Dujiangyan Longquanshan Irrigation District in China in establishing a water supply management system for the Sancha Lake irrigation area (See Figure 3), within which a four-level early-warning mechanism for drought scenarios was successfully designed. “Equitable-effective-sustainable” macro-control policies and fundamental principles for the irrigation area were formulated, which has optimized water resource allocation for more than 1,500 hectares of farmland, 50 large-scale enterprises and 300,000 people, resulting in the sustainable utilization of the Sancha Lake irrigation area water resources and achieving significant social and economic benefits (Xu et al. 2013).

Figure 3: The Sancha Lake irrigation area in China.

Figure 3: The Sancha Lake irrigation area in China.

Future Research

To promote further improvements in water conservancy and hydropower construction engineering management, and especially to open the way for the development of integrated, systematized and sustainably-based modern engineering management, the team proposed four open engineering management (Jiuping Xu 2016) research foci for the future: 1) an effective integration management system for all large-scale hydropower construction projects; 2) isomorphism or homomorphism between the problem systems and the model systems of large-scale hydropower construction projects; 3) isomorphism or homomorphism between the model systems and the algorithmic systems for large-scale hydropower construction projects; and 4) the adjustability of major projects, such as considerations as to how large-scale hydropower projects may affect the ecological environment when the geological structure cannot be changed.

Today, integrated management has been recognized as a critical OR/MS methodology for the management of large-scale water conservancy and hydropower engineering construction projects not only in China, but all over the world.

Jiuping Xu is the assistant principal of Sichuan University and dean of the business school and distinguished professor of the “Chang Jiang Scholars Program” in China. He is one of the academic leaders at the State Key Laboratory of Hydraulics and Mountain River Engineering at Sichuan University. He is a lifetime academician at the International Academy for Systems and Cybernetic Sciences and a lifetime academician at LotfiZadeh International Academy of Sciences.

References

  1. Jiuping Xu and Zongmin Li, 2012, “A review on ecological engineering based engineering management,” Omega-International Journal of Management Science, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 368-378.
  2. Ziqiang Zeng, Jiuping Xu, Shiyong Wu and Manbin Shen, 2014, “Antithetic method-based particle swarm optimization for a queuing network problem with fuzzy data in concrete transportation systems,” Computer-Aided Civil and Infrastructure Engineering, Vol. 29, No.10, pp. 771-800.
  3. Jiuping Xu, Yan Tu and Ziqiang Zeng, 2013, “Bilevel optimization of regional water resources allocation problem under fuzzy random environment,” Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management-ASCE, Vol. 139, No. 3, pp. 246-264.
  4. Jiuping Xu, 2016, “Engineering management: New advances and three open questions [J],” International Journal of Management Science and Engineering Management, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 1-7.
  5. Jiuping Xu and Ziqiang Zeng, 2014, “Fuzzy-Like Multiple Objective Multistage Decision Making,” Springer: Heidelberg.
  6. Jiuping Xu and Zhimiao Tao, 2012, “Rough Multiple Objective Decision Making,” Taylor & Francis Publishers: Boca Raton.