REGION profile

South America

In several countries in South America, hydropower provides more than half of total electricity supply and it is expected to remain the region’s largest renewable source for years to come.
Generation by hydropower (2022)
Hydropower installed capacity (2022)
164 GW
Capacity added (2022)
1,525 MW
Pumped storage installed capacity (2022)
0 MW
Pumped storage capacity added (2022)
7.7 GW

At a glance

South America experienced a significant increase in hydropower development in 2022, with over 1.5 GW capacity installed and 17 projects getting commissioned or coming online. Countries in this region are making considerable advances in implementing policies and setting targets to increase renewable energy production, specifically hydropower, since there is an abundance of this natural resource.  Brazil leads with a total hydropower potential estimated at 260 GW, predominantly located in the Amazon Basin.

Itaipu, Brazil. Credit: Voith Hydro

In the Andean region, both Colombia and Peru exhibit substantial exploitable hydropower capacities exceeding 50 GW each, supported by their abundant water resources and conducive geographical features. Argentina, with a technical hydropower potential of 130 TWh/yr, has harnessed only a quarter, indicating considerable opportunity for growth.  

In 2022, rainfall levels were higher than average in Chile and Colombia, boosting the hydropower output compared to previous years, which experienced drought. In Chile specifically, the year-on-year increase for August 2022 was 87 per cent. Similarly, in Brazil, water was spilled from five dams on the Rio Grande River basin, which had not happened since March 2011. In December 2022, the level of water in the reservoirs of Brazil’s southeast/centre-west hydroelectric system was at about 50 per cent of capacity, double what it was a year ago. The recovery of the hydro reservoirs is a result of higher rainfall in 2022 compared with 2021, when Brazil faced its worst drought in 91 years.  

Empresas públicas de Medellín project , El Buey Columbia. Credit: Victoria Cardenas

Latest developments

Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) launched the commercial operation of the first two turbine-generator units of its 2.4 GW Ituango Hydropower plant. The plant is delivering continuous electricity supply from 600 MW of capacity to the national grid and once completed in 2024 will provide 17 per cent of Colombia’s electricity demand from its eight units.

Five other hydropower projects came online in 2022, cumulatively adding total generation capacity of over 600 MW.  

In 2022, Brazil added approximately 300 MW of hydropower after commissioning over 15 hydropower plants, the largest of which was the São Roque plant at 141.9 MW installed capacity.  

Due to socio-environmental considerations, the feasible exploitation is reduced to around 68 GW, highlighting the necessity of a sustainable approach in balancing power generation with ecological conservation. This includes the use of less invasive run-of-river systems, comprehensive socio-environmental impact assessments, and ensuring enhanced community participation in decision-making processes.

Chile is ramping up their investment in renewable technologies including hydropower. The country’s hydropower capacity increased by 477 MW, mainly due to the commissioning of the Las Lajas and the Alfalfal II power plants, both part of the same developer, Alto Maipo.  

The Ocean Renewable Power Company is installing the country’s first commercial river hydrokinetic system in the municipality of Chile Chico. This type of system generates electricity without the need for dams or impoundments. The electricity delivered from ORPC devices would displace diesel fuel in the market. This fits in the municipality’s larger plan of expanding its usage of renewable energy by expanding electric vehicle charging networks and tourist traveller services, adding public lighting in off-grid areas in the community and creating additional electrical capacity to support sustainable community development.  

Hydropower provided 73 per cent of Ecuador’s electricity, and in 2022, two new plants began operation, Sarapullo (49 MW) and Sabanilla (36 MW) hydropower plants.  

The government of Ecuador has announced a plan to offer public-private partnerships for 10 new hydropower projects with a combined total capacity of 640 MW and investment of US$1.52bn.

RC Hydro has begun initial construction work on the 40 MW Churo run-of-river hydro project in the Lima region of Peru, with an expected cost of US$60 million and completion date in 2024. The electricity produced will be used to supply the national grid. According to the country’s National Interconnected System Financial Operation Committee, Peru will add 650 MW of hydropower in 2023.      

French Guyana  
Voltalia is a Brazilian company developing a 2.9 MW run-of-river hydropower station in French Guyana. It is expected to produce 12.7 GWh/yr, which will replace the current diesel generators used in the community and will reduce the carbon footprint of the municipality by more than 18,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.  

Case Study

Hidroituango also referred to as Ituango, is a hydropower plant located in Antioquia, Colombia, which will provide 17 per cent of the country’s electricity demand when completed in 2024. Ituango is a project of the Ituango Hydrolectric Company, made up of the majority partners Instituto para el Desarollo de Antioquia, the Government of Antioquia and Empresas Públicas de Medellín who is the main contractor and operator.

The project’s completion had been delayed due to severe weather conditions. Between April and May in 2018, Antioquia experienced heavy rains which caused large landslides. These events coupled with geological characteristics, resulted in the premature filling of the reservoir. A sudden unblocking of one of the diversion tunnels caused flooding downstream of the dam and an evacuation of the surrounding communities.  

A year later, Colombia’s National Disaster Risk Management Unit declared that the 600 families that were evacuated could safely return to their homes.  In 2021, a report warned that the decision to abort the project would pose a greater socio-environmental threat than finishing it. The Colombian licensing authority ANLA provided a series of recommendations for the safe completion of the dam and powerhouse. These recommendations were implemented and since late 2022, Ituango has been supplying continuous electricity from 600 MW capacity to the national grid.  

The project is undergoing an assessment under the Hydropower Sustainability Standard to certify its compliance and demonstrate its alignment with performance standards. This assessment is undergoing public consultation with an expected completion in June 2023.  

Once Ituango is fully completed in 2024, it will have a total installed capacity of 2,400 MW and will represent a reduction in emissions of 4.4 million tons of CO2 per year.

Interesting Fact  

Around the world, the countries that are using almost 100 per cent renewable energy to generate electricity are Albania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iceland, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Norway. These countries have made significant strides in implementing renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower and have set ambitious targets for continuous growth. The Itaipu Dam, located on the Paraná River, is one of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world and generates about 95 per cent of Paraguay’s electricity helping Paraguay generate all its electricity from renewable sources.

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