HomeRenewablesHydroelectricArticle: Large-scale hydro still important to Latin America

Article: Large-scale hydro still important to Latin America

By the Potencia correspondent

The majority of Latin American countries are undertaking an important restructuring of their energy systems, increasing the contribution of new renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. However, the region’s traditional renewable energy source, hydroelectric power is still extremely important.

Brazil is a good example of its importance. The country will be facing significant challenges in the coming three years and the government needs to assure the electricity supply. Those challenges are the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

In early 2013, the biggest and most populated country in Latin America suffered a serious drought that drastically lowered reservoir levels. At that time it was rumoured that in order to cope with this decrease in electricity output from its hydroelectric dams the country would need to implement rolling blackouts.

This clearly demonstrated the essential role the hydropower plays in Brazil’s electricity system. In the end, the government overcame the crisis by increasing the output from its thermoelectric stations.

If Brazil and any other Latin American country want to reduce the contribution of polluting energy they need to increase the number of hydropower stations. This is the fastest and most efficient solution, according so some experts.

The governments of Brazil and Paraguay jointly run the Itaipu dam, which is the world’s second largest hydroelectric facility. Only China’s Three Gorges Dam is bigger. Itaipu has been in operation for several decades and it is being constantly refurbished and upgraded.

Itaipu is awaiting the delivery of a 500 kV-transformer to the Villa Hayes substation, according to a recent statement by Itaipu Binational Company. According to America Economia, next month four transformers will be operating in the substation. Following a trial period the first group of transformers will be operation in July. The transformers cost $2 million each. By November the second group, also composed by four transformers, will be in operation.

Plans by the Brazilian government are now pointing at going ahead with the Belo Monte project. This hydro power station has triggered heated discussions between two camps.

The government’s plan is radically different from the views of green campaigners and the native people that live in the Amazonian jungle, both of who oppose its construction.

The plant is being built on the Xingu River and will cover an area of over 500 km2. Its construction will mean about 50,000 native people and farmers will be forced off their land, Servindi news agency reported.

Protests against the project have frequently over the last years and still are occurring today. The situation has led the government to send in the Federal Police forces to protect the dam works from the activists that want to stop its construction.

Out of Brazil, the other large-scale hydro project is HidroAysen, which is being built in Chile and is expected to be operational by 2020.

This mega project to be built in the Southern XI region includes five hydro power plants. Two of them are being built on the Baker river and other three on the Pascua river.

HidroAysen will cover almost 6000 hectares and the five plants will be adding 2750 MW to the Central Interconnected System (SIC) with a yearly average production of 18.340 GWh.

The Chilean government has a plan to achieve 20 per cent of electricity production from non-conventional renewable energy sources. However, the Ministry of Energy defines non-conventional renewable energy sources as wind, biomass, biogas, geothermal, solar and tidal stations, plus hydropower plants under 20 MW.

Obviously, HidroAysen does not fit into that category.

Nonetheless, the importance of HidroAysen in meeting Chile’s growing energy demand should not be under-estimated, with some believing that the its future energy security will increasingly rely on hydroelectric power.

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