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The energy and water story of Paraguay and Brazil

Emily is currently on a study exchange to complete her science degree at The University of Melbourne.  She is staying and studying in Buenos Aires for the next 6 months.

During her travels, she was lucky enough to go on a technical tour of the massive hydroelectric dam called "Itaipu". The Itaipu dam is located on the Parana river on the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

The dam and hydroelectric power station is a joint project shared by Brazil and Paraguay, and powers approximately 80% of Paraguay and about 15% of Brazil's energy needs. It has a capacity of 14 GW (20 turbines of 700 MW each).  It is the main power generation source for Sao Paulo. It actually generated more electricity that the Three Gorges hydroelectric plant in China.

The dam was constructed using hollow engineering methods which created space for maintenance work and also saved energy and economic costs of filling in the structure with concrete.

Here is Emily on a personal tour of the control room!

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The politics and diplomacy behind the dam

Itaipu Binational is a joint Brazilian and Paraguayan company created to manage the hydroelectric dam. The joint partnership over Seven Falls, now covered by the hydroelectric dam, was not always so friendly. In 1750 both countries claimed possession over the Seven Falls area. Disputes over the land continued until and during The Paraguay War (1865-1870). Tensions over the land were heightened throughout the 1960’s due to the discovery of the potential hydro power generation in the area.

Off the back of intense negotiations on June 22, 1966 a treaty was signed between Brazil and Paraguay which bound the two countries to equally share the territory.

As a result, Itaipu dam splits the energy output and many operational procedures between the two countries 50-50. For example, there must always be and equal number of board members from both Brazil and Paraguay, and there must always be a Paraguayan and Brazilian working in the control room.

Why was the Itaipu treaty so important?

Global conflict over water and energy has had a long history. The Itaipu dam serves as an example to show that international collaboration over energy and water resources can produce immense benefits for groups involved. In addition to providing substantial renewable energy to both countries, Itaipu Binational also strengthens trust and provides opportunities for binational research efforts and social programs which benefit both Paraguay and Brazil.

Strong water and energy management practices go hand in hand with communication, negotiation and diplomatic negotiation. While Itaipu is one of the largest hydroelectric power stations in the world, these lessons of open communication and collaboration filter down to water management on smaller scales.  

The future

Currently the treaty is set to expire in 2023 and has yet to have been renegotiated. It will be interesting to see how the renegotiation process impacts both the operational management of Itaipu and ongoing binational collaboration.