03 Nov 2023
 | 03 Nov 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESSD.

Dams in the Mekong: A comprehensive database, spatiotemporal distribution, and hydropower potentials

Wei Jing Ang, Edward Park, Dung Duc Tran, Ho Huu Loc, and Yadu Pokhrel

Abstract. Dams have proliferated along the Mekong, spurred by energy demands from economic development and capital from private companies. Swift dam evolution has rendered many databases outdated, in which mismatches arise from differing compilation methods. Without a comprehensive database, up-to-date spatial assessment of dam growth is unavailable. Looking at future development, hydropower potential specifically within the Mekong remains to be systematically evaluated. In this paper, we offer (1) an open-access and unified database of 1,055 dams, (2) a spatiotemporal analysis of dams on a sub-basin and country level from the 1980s to the post-2020s, and (3) a grid-based assessment of the theoretical basin-wide hydropower potential, using present-day discharge from the CaMa-Flood model (2011–2015, 0.05 degree), and future discharge from the WaterGAP2 model used for ISIMIP2b (2021–2030, 0.5 degree). The dam count of 1,055 is more than twice the largest existing database, with 608 hydropower dams generating a boom in hydropower capacity from 1,242 MW in the 1980s to 69,199 MW post-2020s. While China had the largest capacity increase from the 2000s to the 2010s (+16,854 MW), Laos has the most planned dams and the highest projected growth post-2020s (+18,223 MW). Based on present-day discharge, we estimate a basin-wide hydropower potential of 1,334,683 MW, where Laos is the highest at 514,887 MW. Based on future discharge modeled with climate change, hydropower potential could grow to over 2,000,000 MW. Laos and China are the highest at around 900,000 MW each, together forming over 80 % of the total potential. Our database facilitates research on dam-induced hydrological and ecological alterations, while spatiotemporal analysis of hydropower capacity could illuminate the complex transboundary electricity trade. Through both spatiotemporal and hydropower potential evaluation, we address the current and future vulnerability of countries to dam construction, highlighting the need for better planning and management in the future hydropower hotspot Laos. The Mekong dam database is publicly available at (Ang et al., 2023).

Wei Jing Ang et al.

Status: open (until 26 Dec 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on essd-2023-417', Polina Lemenkova, 20 Nov 2023 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on essd-2023-417', Anonymous Referee #2, 30 Nov 2023 reply

Wei Jing Ang et al.

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Replication Data for: Dams in the Mekong: A comprehensive database, spatiotemporal distribution, and hydropower potentials Wei Jing Ang, Edward Park, Dung Duc Tran, Ho Huu Loc, Yadu Pokhrel

Wei Jing Ang et al.


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Short summary
Dams have burgeoned in the Mekong, but information on dams is scattered and inconsistent. Up-to-date evaluation of dams is unavailable, and basin-wide hydropower potential has yet to be systematically assessed. We present a comprehensive database of 1,055 dams, a spatiotemporal analysis of the dams, and a total hydropower potential of 1,334,683 MW. Considering projected dam development and hydropower potential, the vulnerability and the need for better dam management may be the highest in Laos.