GE signs contract to modernize major hydropower facility in South America

Located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, Itaipu began generating electricity in 1984. It is planned that the technological modernization of the facility will take 14 years.

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GE Renewable Energy has signed an agreement under which it will modernize the 14 gigawatt Itaipu hydroelectric plant, a huge facility located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

Earlier this week, GE Renewable Energy announced that its Hydro and Grid Solutions divisions had signed a 14-year work contract. The Paraguayan firms CIE and Tecnoedil will support the project.

Among other things, GE said the upgrade will include “equipment and systems for all 20 power units, as well as improvements to the measurement, protection, control, regulation and monitoring systems of the hydroelectric power plant.”

In 2018, GE said that a consortium formed by GE Power and CIE Sociedad Anonima had been selected to “provide electrical equipment in the early stages” of the dam upgrade project.

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Itaipu started electricity production in 1984. Itaipu Binacional’s website states that the facility “provides 10.8% of the energy consumed in Brazil and 88.5% of the energy consumed in Paraguay.”

In terms of capacity, it is the second largest hydroelectric power plant in the world after the Chinese Three Gorges Dam with a capacity of 22.5 GW.

Hydropower generation reached 4,418 terawatt-hours in 2020, maintaining its position as “the largest renewable source of electricity, producing more than all other renewable technologies combined”, according to the International Energy Agency.

The IEA claims that nearly 40% of the planet’s hydropower fleet is at least 40 years old. “When hydroelectric plants turn 45 to 60 years old, a major upgrade is required to increase their productivity and increase flexibility,” the report says. At 38, Itaipu appears to be on the cusp of that threshold.

Hydropower has its supporters, but there are also concerns about the sector’s environmental impact.

The US Energy Information Administration notes that while hydro generators cannot “directly release air pollutants,” other factors associated with dams, reservoirs, and generators may have an impact.

“A dam creating a reservoir (or a dam diverting water to a run-of-the-mill hydroelectric power plant) can prevent fish migration,” the report says, adding that dams and reservoirs “can also change natural water temperature, water chemistry, river flow characteristics, and silt load.”

In addition, the EIA states that the reservoirs may eventually cover areas, including archaeological sites and land used for agriculture. “The reservoir and the operation of the dam may also lead to the relocation of people,” the report says.

By the end of April, GE reported that its renewable energy segment posted a $434 million loss in the first quarter of 2022, compared to a $234 million loss in the first quarter of 2021. Renewable energy revenue was $2.87 billion, up from $3.24. billion in the first quarter of 2021.

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