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Lure of Cheap China Hydropower Backfiring Due to Climate Change

Aluminum smelters in reservoir-rich Yunnan province cutting capacity amid drought-induced power shortage.

Yunnan’s reservoirs are running dry this year amid a historic drought.

Yunnan’s reservoirs are running dry this year amid a historic drought.

Source: AFP/Getty Images

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Cheap hydropower lured energy-intensive aluminum producers to China’s Yunnan province, but more frequent droughts due to climate change are upending what seemed like a win-win.

Around 80% of the southwestern province’s electricity comes from hydropower. That’s attracted producers of the metal that takes so much power to produce it’s been described as congealed electricity. Yunnan now accounts for around 13% of Chinese aluminum output.