Blog: Brazil and Paraguay’s Itaipu dam works to combine climate and sustainability action

The world's largest hydropower plant in terms of electricity generation is producing clean energy and avoiding negative climate and environmental impacts, writes Helio Gilberto Amaral, Head of Coordination at Itaipu Binacional.

Brazil and Paraguay, developing nations and signatories of the Paris Agreement, face the challenge of promoting economic development to create income and jobs for their people, at the same time as avoiding negative climate and environment impacts of growth on their citizens.    

Itaipu dam

Itaipu Binacional, a Brazilian-Paraguayan hydroelectric plant which belongs equally to those neighboring countries, plays a major role in meeting this double objective.

Located on the Paraná River, in November, Itaipu hit 2.5 billion megawatts hours (MWh) of energy generated since it began in May 1984. With this, Itaipu reaffirmed its position as the power plant that generates most electricity on the planet.

If it were possible to store the accumulated production of Itaipu, it would be enough to supply the world for 40 days, or Europe for 6 months and 12 days.

In order to generate the same amount of energy with a thermal oil source, it would take 5 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to 51 days of the world's oil production (based on 2016 data), which would lead to the emission of 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

Supplying 17 per cent of Brazilian consumption and 78 per cent of Paraguay’s, Itaipu makes an important contribution to the participation of renewable sources in the energy network of both countries. In Brazil, renewable energy accounts for more than 66 per cent of electricity generation and in Paraguay, it is almost 100 per cent.

Hydroelectric plants are among the sources of electricity generation that emit less greenhouse gases (GHG), which cause human-generated climate change. Both a hydroelectric plant and a biomass-powered or wind-powered plant release only 10 tonnes of CO2 per gigawatt-hour (GWh) into the atmosphere.

Thus, with an annual production of over 90 million MWh - and a world record in 2016 of 103.1 million MWh produced - Itaipu is avoiding the emission of 38 million tonnes of CO2 per year which gas-fired plants would produce to generate the same amount, or 85 million tonnes of CO2 per year compared to coal thermal.

However, Itaipu's contribution to the climate is not only due to the generation of hydroelectric energy. The company undertakes a series of actions that are related to several of the commitments expressed in the 2015 Paris Agreement and also with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 6 and 7, which focus on water and energy.

Those actions aim to guarantee the water security of its reservoir (also used for tourist activities, agriculture, fishing and water supply), with emphasis on the maintenance of more than 100 thousand hectares of forests that, in 2016, summed up 5.6 million tonness of CO2 sequestrated.

By considering the emissions of GHGs of the reservoir (235,469 tonnes CO2 equivalent), the annual balance is estimated at 5,359,940 tonnes CO2 equivalent, which means that the sequestration of CO2 is more than 21 times the emissions.

Itaipu also accomplishes the recovery of soils and hydrographic basins, as well as promoting biogas as a source of energy, and the use of electric vehicles, proving that large infrastructure projects can be driving forces for sustainable development.

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