Due to the country’s topography and extensive river network, Bolivia has an estimated hydropower potential of more than 40,000 MW. As a result, hydropower is set to play a central role in fulfilling the government’s aim of becoming a major exporter of renewable electricity.
Over the past decade, Bolivia has enjoyed significant progress in social and economic development largely thanks to its natural gas exports which have generated billions of dollars in revenue for the government. Per capita income has more than doubled, electricity access has increased to above 90 per cent for the first time and the poverty rate has fallen dramatically. Government subsidised natural gas also dominates the country’s electricity sector, with gas-fired power plants accounting for up to 70 per cent of its total installed generating capacity.
As part of an ambitious National Electricity Plan 2025, the Bolivian government intends to drastically reduce its use of gas for power generation in favour of renewables, and free up additional gas supplies for exports. Integral to this strategy is a plan to increase the share of hydropower within the country’s electricity mix from 29 per cent to 70 per cent in 2025. This will satisfy increasing demand and support up to 7,600 MW of potential large hydropower schemes for exports. This level of capacity would not only help displace domestic gas generation but would also enable Bolivia to export excess renewable electricity to neighbouring countries, and in the process position the country as a regional energy hub.
The plan will require some USD 17 billion in investment by 2025 and is heavily reliant on two large hydropower schemes: El Bala hydropower complex with a capacity of up to 3,700 MW under development and El Rio Grande hydropower complex with up to 2,900 MW.
Located north of the capital La Paz on the Beni River, El Bala complex has been considered a national priority for several decades. Despite the economic benefits through export revenue generation, the project continues to face considerable opposition from local community groups and international NGOs concerning potential environmental impacts in the Madidi National Park and a need for resettlement schemes.
In addition, the Bolivian government is assessing large-scale projects with Brazil along the Madeira River through a binational initiative which could add a further 3,000 MW of capacity to Bolivia. Studies are being undertaken with Brazilian authorities to determine the potential design and locations of future hydropower projects as part of the initiative.
In 2018, the 55 MW San Jose I project was commissioned, the first of a two-powerhouse complex located on the eastern slopes of the Andes in the Cochabamba region. Owned by the state-run company Empresa Nacional de Electricidad (ENDE) Corani, the USD 139 million project was built by PowerChina and is expected to save the country up to USD 6 million a year in electricity costs. Its sister station, the 69 MW San Jose II is expected to be commissioned in early 2019. Other large projects under construction are the 280 MW Ivirizu hydropower plant in Cochabamba and the 203 MW Miguillas hydropower complex in the La Paz region.
In order to support the government’s export aspirations, several feasibility studies are being undertaken for the construction of transmission lines to Brazil and Argentina. Construction is underway on an interconnector between Yaguacua in southern Bolivia and Tartagal in northern Argentina, with a capacity of 500kV. The transmission line is 110 kilometres in length and is being developed by ENDE.
This country profile is featured in the 2019 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report: hydropower.org/statusreport
This profile was last updated in May 2019.