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.
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 (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.
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.