A decade ago, Ecuador was highly dependent on fossil fuel production for power generation, with thermopower plants accounting for about half of energy production. Fossil fuels also represented almost the half of the exportations from the country. About 40 per cent of the population had a subsistence livelihood, and rural and indigenous populations faced a lack of access to electricity. In 2006, hydropower represented 44 per cent of energy production with 1,640 MW installed capacity.
Ecuador took the decision to exploit its hydropower potential, estimated at more than 20,000 MW, to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuel and foster economy growth. Hydropower is crucial in the government’s strategy to change the energy mix, increase energy security and reduce energy cost.
Framed in the National Plan for Good Living 2009–2013, the most important milestone was the decision to begin the simultaneous construction of eight hydropower projects that will increase the total capacity by 2,832 MW. Ecuador aims to have one of the cleanest energy mixes in the world by generating 90 per cent of its energy from hydropower once all the plants are in full operation in 2017.
With these eight hydroelectric projects, Ecuador will be able to satisfy the national domestic energy demand and export surplus energy to Colombia and Peru. The government estimates this will save millions of USD by not importing fossil fuels to operate thermopower plants, and will also reduce CO2 emissions.
Within the framework to eradicate poverty, promote sustainable development and equitable redistribution of resources, Ecuador now leads in promoting energy security in the region.
The grid has also been strengthened by more than 2,000 km of transmission lines and an increase of transformative capacity by 74 per cent in one decade. In order to connect the new hydropower plants to the national electricity grid, 600 km of high-voltage 500 kV transmission lines are under construction. They connect four substations: one in the north-east, close to the 1,500 MW hydropower plant Coca Coda Sinclair; two in the centre close to Quito and Tisaleo; and one in the south-west in Guayaquil, increasing the supply reliability to the country’s major demand centres. Power generation, distribution and commercialisation are managed by the state-owned company CELEC (Electric Corporation of Ecuador).
Ecuador’s most emblematic hydropower project, the 1,500 MW Coca Coda Sinclair plant, went into full operation in November 2016. The first four Pelton units started to generate electricity in April just three days before the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The plant did not suffer any damage and continues to supply power to the national grid. The USD 2.25 billion project was 70 per cent financed by the Chinese Exim Bank and built by the Sinohydro Corporation. It is the largest hydroelectric project in Ecuador, and the largest built by China overseas, meeting 30 per cent of total domestic electricity demand with a mean annual generation of 8,734 GWh.
The Sopladora hydropower project, the third largest in Ecuador, was completed in August 2016. At a cost of USD 755 million, the project was 85 per cent financed by the Chinese Exim Bank and built by a Chinese consortium. The station is part of the Hydropaute cascade scheme in the Paute River, located in the south-east. Sopladora relies on the water discharged by the upstream 1,075 MW hydroelectric plant Molino. Three Francis turbines with a power of 487 MW will supply an average annual generation of 2,770 GWh to the national grid, meeting about 13 per cent of energy demand.
Five other hydropower projects from the government’s strategic plan are in an advanced stage of construction. They are spread across the country, and CELEC plans to start their operation in 2017.
These include Minas San Francisco (275 MW), Toachi-Pilatón (254 MW), Delsitanisagua (180 MW), Quijos (50 MW), and Mazar-Dudas (21 MW).
This country profile was last updated in May 2017.
This country profile is featured in the 2017 Hydropower Status Report. You can download the full report here.