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The largest hydroelectric plant in energy production in the world is in Brazil: this giant has more than 2,4 billion MWh accumulated, capable of supplying planet Earth for more than 1 month

Written by Flavia Marinho
Published 15/06/2024 às 05:05
energy - plant - itaipu - hydroelectric - binacional
Power Plant AM – Alexandre Marchetti / Itaipu Binacional

Itaipu became the first hydroelectric plant in the world to surpass the 100 million MWh mark of annual energy, surpassing the Chinese plant Três Gorges

The Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant, the largest in the world in energy production, represents an impressive milestone in engineering. Developed jointly by Brazil and Paraguay, this binational plant is located on the Paraná River, on the border between the two countries.

The Itaipu project consists of a series of dams that, together, are 7.919 meters long. To give you an idea of ​​its grandeur, the height of the main dam is 196 meters, equivalent to a 65-story building. Building this monumental work required meticulous planning and a phenomenal amount of materials. Next, we will explore the details of this colossal construction, the largest energy producer on the planet.

Itaipua is the largest generator of clean and renewable energy on the planet, with more than 2,7 million GWh

Itaipu has 20 generating units and an installed capacity of 14 gigawatts (GW), supplying around 10,8% of the energy consumed in Brazil and 88,5% of Paraguayan consumption. This feat makes it the largest generator of clean and renewable energy on the planet, with more than 2,7 million GWh produced since the beginning of its operation.

To understand the magnitude of this production, this accumulated energy would be enough to meet Brazilian demand for approximately 5 years and 3 months, or global demand for 1 month, 10 days and 19 hours. Comparatively, Brazil would need to burn 588 thousand barrels of oil per day to obtain the same energy production in thermoelectric plants that Itaipu generates.

Plant Construction Stages

Construction of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant began in the 1960s, when the governments of Brazil and Paraguay signed an agreement to study the hydraulic potential of the stretch of the Paraná River. In 1974, Itaipu Binacional was born, the entity responsible for the construction and operation of the plant.

The project was carried out in several phases, with construction beginning in 1975 and ending, according to the initial plan, in 2016. The official inauguration took place in 1984, but only in 2016 were all 20 power generating units fully operational.

First Phases of Construction

Between 1975 and 1978, crucial activities took place such as the excavation of the Paraná River diversion channel and the construction of the rockfill dam. The installation of the industrial site and the execution of control structures were also carried out during this period.

From 1978 to 1982, construction of the main dam, right side dam, and other earth and rockfill dams took shape. Simultaneously, the main electromechanical assemblies began to be implemented.

Itaipu started generating energy in May 1984

In the period from 1982 to 1986, the gates of the diversion control structure were closed and the reservoir was formed. In May 1984, Itaipu began generating energy, reaching a level close to 90 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy as of 2006.

Between 1986 and 1991, construction of the diversion canal powerhouse was completed, along with the assembly of the generating units up to the 18th. Later, from 2000 to 2007, the last two generating units were installed, completing the 20 foreseen in the original project.

Planning and executing a project of the magnitude of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant presented formidable challenges.

Planning and executing a project of the magnitude of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant presented formidable challenges. From ensuring that all materials met technical specifications to verifying the properties of materials and concrete, engineers faced and overcame numerous difficulties.

They established rigorous information and control routines, and trained professionals to ensure construction quality and safety. Furthermore, they created working conditions that maintained the motivation of employees throughout the extensive period of the project.

Diplomacy and International Cooperation in the Construction of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant

The construction of the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant was not only an engineering feat, but also a diplomatic milestone between Brazil and Paraguay. The Salto de Sete Quedas region, today covered by the plant's lake, was an area disputed by the two countries since the 18th century.

The Paraguayan War (1865-1870) exacerbated the dispute over the border in the Sete Quedas region. The Peace Treaty of 1872 established that the territories should be divided by the Paraná River up to Salto and the summit of Serra de Maracaju.

Diplomatic Solution: Ata do Iguaçu

In the 1960s, the discovery of the hydroelectric energy potential of the Paraná River reignited the dispute. Instead of confronting each other, Brazil and Paraguay chose to join forces. The result of these negotiations was the Iguaçu Act, signed on June 22, 1966, by the foreign ministers of both countries.

This joint declaration expressed the willingness to study the use of hydraulic resources belonging jointly to both countries, in the stretch of the Paraná River from Salto de Sete Quedas to the mouth of the Iguaçu River. From this cooperation, Itaipu Binacional was born.

Creation of Itaipu Binacional caused tensions with Argentina

In May 1974, the binational entity Itaipu was formed to manage the construction of the plant, structured as an international company. The legal solution found was one of the contributions of jurist Miguel Reale. With this, the dispute over land on the border was overcome.

However, the creation of Itaipu caused tensions with Argentina, which feared that the plant would harm its rights over the waters of the Paraná River. The issue was discussed at the United Nations General Assembly in 1972, but the project went ahead.

The construction of the plant was considered a work of Hercules

In 1973, Brazilian and Paraguayan technicians traveled the Paraná River by boat in search of the best location to build the plant. After detailed studies with the support of a ferry, they chose a stretch of the river known as Itaipu, which in Tupi means “the stone that sings”.

The construction of the plant was considered a Herculean task, beginning in 1974 with the arrival of the first machines at the construction site. Between 1975 and 1978, the region became a human “anthill”, with the construction of more than 9 thousand homes and a hospital to house workers.

Transport of materials mobilized 20.113 trucks and 6.648 railway wagons.

The magnitude of Itaipu's work required impressive logistics. In 1980, material transport mobilized 20.113 trucks and 6.648 railway wagons. The demand for labor was so high that it caused huge queues at the consortiums' sorting centers.

With the concreting almost complete, the assembly of the generating units was the next phase. Transporting entire parts from the factories to the plant was a logistical challenge, with the first turbine wheel, weighing 300 tonnes, taking three months to arrive from São Paulo to the construction site.

The Paraná River and the Dam

Work on the dam came to an end in October 1982, but work in Itaipu did not stop. The closing of the diversion channel gates began the formation of the plant's reservoir. Operation Mymba Kuera, which means “animal catch” in Tupi-Guarani, saved the lives of 36.450 animals in the area to be flooded.

Due to heavy rains and floods at the time, the currents of the Paraná River took 14 days to fill the reservoir. The resulting sheet of water covered 135 hectares, equivalent to four times the size of Guanabara Bay.

An Energetic Giant

The construction of Itaipu also meant the discovery of the enormous energy potential of the Paraná River. Before the plant, only a small hydroelectric plant lit the city of Guaíra and a military company. In 1962, studies proposed a plant with a capacity of 10 megawatts, but the idea did not go ahead.

The signing of the Itaipu Treaty in 1973 coincided with the global oil crisis, intensifying the exploration of renewable energy sources. Itaipu Binacional almost doubled Brazil's energy generation capacity and consolidated the use of river power as a source of clean and renewable energy.

The magnitude of Itaipu's energy production

The Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant became an energy powerhouse, with the first mechanical rotation of a turbine occurring on December 17, 1983. Finally, on May 5, 1984, the plant began producing energy, when the first of 20 generating units came into operation.

In the first seven years, 18 generating units were installed. In 2000, the plant achieved a new world production record by generating 93,4 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh). In 2004, upon completing 20 years of activity, Itaipu had produced enough energy to supply the world for 36 days.

Completion of the Work: Itaipu reached the historic mark of 2 billion megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy

May 2007 marked the entry into operation of the last two generating units foreseen in the original project, thus completing the 20 generating units in activity. With favorable conditions on the Paraná River, including normal rainfall throughout the basin, the plant's power generation could reach 100 billion kWh.

On August 8, 2007, Itaipu reached the historic mark of 2 billion megawatt-hours (MWh) produced since it began operating in 1984. This amount of energy would be enough to supply world consumption for 39 days, or the consumption Brazil for four years and eight months, or Paraguay for 183 years.

Energy records

In 2016, Itaipu became the first hydroelectric plant in the world to surpass the 100 million MWh annual generation mark, reaching a total of 103.098.366 MWh. This feat surpassed the previous record of 98,8 million MWh, set by Chinese Three Gorges hydroelectric plant in 2014.

In addition to being the largest hydroelectric plant in the world in terms of accumulated production, since the beginning of its operations, Itaipu generated more than 2,4 billion MWh by 2016. This milestone reaffirms the importance of the plant as a producer of clean and renewable energy, contributing significantly to the energy matrix of the two countries.

Importance of Clean Energy: Itaipu's energy production avoids the need to burn 588 thousand barrels of oil per day,

Itaipu's energy production avoids the need to burn 588 barrels of oil per day, which would be necessary to generate the same amount of energy in thermoelectric plants. This highlights the relevance of the plant in promoting a more sustainable and less polluting energy matrix.

Furthermore, the energy generated by Itaipu contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, reinforcing Brazil and Paraguay's commitment to sustainability and environmental preservation. The plant is an example of how international cooperation can result in significant benefits for the countries involved and for the planet.

Itaipu is recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World

Itaipu is recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, a choice made by engineers from all over the world in 1995, in an election promoted by Popular Mechanics magazine. Between 1975 and 1978, more than 9 thousand houses and a hospital were built to house the professionals who worked on the project.

At that time, Foz do Iguaçu was a city with just two paved streets and around 20 thousand inhabitants. Within a decade, the population increased to 101.447 people, completely transforming the region and contributing to its socioeconomic development.

Discover the secrets of the BIGGEST Energy Generator on the Planet ITAIPU BINACIONAL

I'd love to know if you already knew the incredible story of the Itaipu plant. Tell us in the comments section if you've ever worked on a piece like this. Don't forget to leave 5 stars and activate CPG notifications to keep up with all the news in the world of energy and construction. To the next!

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Flavia Marinho

Flavia Marinho is a Production Engineer with a postgraduate degree in Electrical and Automation Engineering, with extensive experience in the onshore and offshore shipbuilding industry. In recent years, she has dedicated herself to writing articles for news websites in the areas of industry, oil and gas, energy, shipbuilding, geopolitics, jobs and courses, with more than 7 thousand articles published. Her technical expertise and communication skills make her a respected reference in her field. Contact us to suggest an agenda, advertise job vacancies or advertise on our portal.

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