Brian Wheeler, Senior Editor, Power Engineering Magazine
June 21, 2012 | 1 Comments
Hydropower is the world's largest source of renewable energy. In Latin America, it is the main source of power generation, accounting for roughly 65 percent of all electricity generated. Altogether, Latin America's installed hydropower capacity totaled 153 GW at the end of 2010.
No other region of the world generates as much power from hydro, with the world average being about 16 percent. While hydropower is important to many countries in Latin America, potential growth varies from country-to-country. Rising electricity prices and the participation of the private sector in hydro developments make hydropower an attractive option to meet growing demand, said John Targett, vice president and Latin America executive projects director for MWH Global.
"The potential for hydropower growth in Latin America is significant, and current generation is impressive," said Targett. "As the cost of energy increases, there is a resurgence of hydro after development of some of the larger scale projects that were commissioned in the 1960s, 70s and 80s trailed off."
According to the International Hydropower Association (IHA), the major markets in the region include Brazil, Chile, and Columbia. Brazil possesses the largest power system in Latin America, generating 74 percent of all electricity from hydropower, including the 14,000 MW Itaipu project on the Parana River.
Latin America stands out, said Osvaldo San Martin, president and CEO of Voith Hydro Latin America. More than 20 percent of Latin America's feasible hydro potential is still untapped, San Martin said.
Voith is responsible for over 600 hydropower projects in Latin America, accounting for more than 45 GW of the installed capacity in the region and over 35 GW in Brazil alone.
Voith is involved in some of the largest hydropower projects in Latin America, including the 11,200 MW Belo Monte project and the 3,150 MW Santo Antonio project. As other renewable sources such as wind and solar pick up speed in Latin America, Voith still views hydropower as the region's most important source due to the region's natural resources. San Martin said hydropower is necessary to provide stability to the grid, especially during peak hours.
"The untapped hydropower potential is still huge and renewable energy continues to be one of the region's most valuable assets," San Martin said. "We see continued growth in Brazil, especially in the new hydropower sector."
In Brazil, construction continues on the Belo Monte project, which would be Brazil's second largest project behind the 14,000-MW Itaipu plant. The $11 billion project is being built on the Xingu River by Norte Energia with a consortium of 18 partners.
Also in Brazil, construction on the 3,150-MW Santo Antonio project is moving forward. Being built on the Madeira River, work began on the right bank of the river in September 2008.
In March, two turbines began producing power. Andritz Hydro is delivering 12 turbines and generators and 24 regulator systems for voltage generators. Alstom is supplying another 19 turbines and 22 generators.
Santo Antonio Energia expects to complete the project in 2015. The Madeira River Complex, formed by the plants of Santo Antonio and Jirau, will total 6,516 MW. The 3,300 MW Jirau project is expected to be completed by February 2013.
When Santo Antonio, Belo Monte and Jirau are complete, the projects are expected to help Brazil meet its expected delivery of up to 25,000 MW of new hydropower capacity. According to Brazil's 10-year energy plan, the country will need to add 70 GW to its national grid by 2020. According to Business News Americas, 63 percent of that has already been contracted.
While the major markets for hydropower in Latin America may be Brazil, Chile and Colombia, the potential for growth is widespread.
"Latin America has very large hydropower potential," said Daniel Rubinstein, market manager in South America for ABB S.A. "Many countries rely heavily on hydropower for their electricity supply."
Paraguay, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Haiti, Mexico, Costa Rica and Argentina are all looking to expand their use of hydropower.
A number of countries in Latin America have instituted government incentives to encourage the development of renewable energy such as hydropower. In 2011, Mexico expanded its 2008 Law on the Use of Renewable Energies and the Financing of the Energy Transition (LAERFTE) to include hydropower projects larger than 30 MW, under certain conditions, according to IHA. In 2009, hydro accounted for about 11 percent of Mexico's electricity generation, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
In Venezuela, the Inter-American Development Bank loaned Venezuela $800 million for the Manuel Piar Hydroelectric Power Plant, also known as the Tocoma project. The 2,160 MW project is under construction in the Lower Caroni River Basin.
In April, Impsa installed the first of 10 Kaplan turbines at the Manuel Piar project, a 363-ton piece of equipment that will generate 232 MW. When complete, Impsa will have supplied 10 turbines and 10 generators for the project, which will be connected to the National Interconnected System.
Venezuela is also home to the world's third largest operating plant, the 10,200 MW Guri Hydroelectric Plant on the Caroni River. The project was completed in 1987 after being built in two stages, according to MWH, which provided engineering services.
Over the past 70 years, MWH has been involved with hundreds of projects throughout Latin America, totaling more than 30,000 MW of capacity. MWH's Targett said there is a confluence of activity making Latin America a particularly key geographic location.
"There is growing synergy among natural resources and wet infrastructure development in the region, particularly between mining, hydropower and water resources, that support this," he said.
For example, Targett said, Chile and Peru are both investing millions in the mining industry, with Chile investing around $100 million by 2020. He said mining developments require a substantial amount of power, energy and water supply and mining clients are investing in hydropower projects to meet the demands of both their operations and needs of nearby communities.
"These countries understand and support responsible private development as a key factor of the continued growth in the region," he added.
In Chile, the Chacayes project, commissioned in 2011, is the first of five planned projects in the same river basin that will generate a total of 600 MW, the first phase of PacificHydro's development in the Cachapoal Valley. With an investment of over $450 million, the Chacayes plant generates about 111 MW of installed capacity to Chile's grid.