South America saw the fastest hydropower growth rate after the East Asia and Pacific region in 2019 with close to 5,172 MW of capacity added.
In this year, Brazil surpassed China with 4,919 MW of added capacity. This was mainly attributed to the completion of the 11,233 MW Belo Monte hydropower plant.
Brazil’s government has included four hydropower plants among the projects that will receive support as part of the country’s new energy investment programme, following the change in government in 2019. These four hydropower plants are the 650 MW Bem Querer, 430 MW Tabajara, 140 MW Castanheira, and the 118 MW Telemaco Borba projects. Unfortunately, the Bem Querer and Tabajara sites are in the Amazon region where opposition groups claim adverse effects in conservation areas and indigenous lands.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the government has suspended energy generation and transmission auctions. The state-owned planning company, EPE, will evaluate when to resume these. The region is moving to a diversified renewable electricity mix. Countries like Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador in the Andean subregion have installed hydropower capacity exceeding twothirds of the electricity share. However, the increased climate variability associated with ENSO events in this area is challenging the strong reliance on hydropower.
Chile and Argentina are also moving away from fossil fuel generation with large untapped renewable energy resources of hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal. Chile currently has almost 16 GW and Argentina almost 33 GW of hydropower potential.
With an ambitious goal of producing 60 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy resources by 2035, Chile has achieved installed capacity of 10.8 per cent from solar and 8.6 per cent from wind in its national electricity grid. Argentina has achieved 1.1 per cent from solar and 4 per cent from wind. In Argentina and Chile 33 per cent and 28 per cent respectively of installed capacity is from hydropower.
In Paraguay, the 2040 national energy policy is aimed at harnessing the country’s renewable resources for the country’s social and industrial economic development. Similarly, Uruguay is looking to exploit their renewable resources further to increase energy security and decarbonise other sectors of the economy.
In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro inaugurated the 11,233 MW Belo Monte hydropower plant, which will provide electricity to 60 million people. It is the largest in Brazil (excluding Itaipu Binational), the fourth largest in the world, and a source of national pride as the development and construction was undertaken by Brazilian companies. In May 2019, Iberdrola inaugurated the 350 MW Baixo Iguaçu hydropower plant. The plant will provide electricity to one million people in the state of Parana.
In Colombia in September 2019, the insurance company Mapfre concluded that the incident at the Ituango hydropower plant in 2018, when heavy rainfall and landslides caused damage, are within its policy coverage. This allows up to US$2,556 million of infrastructure and equipment damage, plus US$628 million in lost profits. The claim’s value is still to be determined but it will be one of the largest claims in the history of engineering. The project is still in construction, and expected to start operating in 2021, with an additional estimated cost of US$1 billion. It will support 17 per cent of the country’s electricity demand.
As part of the Peruvian government’s commitment to become self-sufficient in energy by 2040, several hydropower plants are expected to enter into operation in the coming years. In 2019, the 84 MW Callahuanca hydropower plant restarted operations after two years of rehabilitation following damage caused by landslides in 2017. Also, two new hydropower plants, El Carmen (8.4 MW) and 8 de Agosto (19 MW) entered into operation.
Bolivia’s President inaugurated in June the 69 MW San Jose II, the second plant of the 124 MW San Jose Complex. This is a step closer to achieving enough reserves to cover the country’s electricity demand and to begin exporting electricity to its neighbours.
Negotiations to export electricity to Argentina are in progress. The next project in the pipeline is the 147 MW Banda Azul hydropower plant. ENDE Corani, the state-owned company, is looking for financiers for the US$300 million investment, with the aim of launching the call to construct it during 2020.
In 2019, the 1,890 MW Salto Grande Hydropower Complex between Argentina and Uruguay began a programme of modernisation with the aim of enhancing electricity production, efficiency and security. The 30-year programme will include renovating electrical and electro-mechanical equipment as well as civil infrastructure.
In Venezuela, several failures in the electricity system caused a shut-down of public infrastructure, leaving millions of people across the country without electricity. While these outages were allegedly caused by cyber-attacks, it highlights the importance of system maintenance and the need to complete rehabilitation of hydropower plants.
More recently, the development of long distance high-voltage interconnections between Ecuador and Peru financed by the IDB is currently stalled due to the Covid-19 crisis. The Ecuadorian government will use the funds to alleviate the health emergency crisis instead.
Picture: Itaipu Binacional, Brazil. Credit: Alexandre Marchetti.
This regional profile is featured in the 2020 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report: hydropower.org/statusreport
This profile was last updated in May 2020.