Rebeca Duran

Rebeca Duran

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Hydro Electricity in Brazil

Rebeca Duran

Rebeca Duran

Staff Writer
The Brazil Business


Brazil has an interesting and rather different approach to hydroelectricity. It differs from many other countries by relying on large plants rather than a series of smaller dams. Here you will find out more information about the role of hydroelectricity in the Brazilian energy matrix.

Hydroelectricity is an alternative energy source to generate electricity from the use of the water ways by the construction of a dam and consequently the formation of a reservoir on a river or a man-made water system. Almost 80% of the energy generated by Brazil and consumed domestically originates from hydro plants.

Type of Energy Brazil World
Hydroelectricity 78.8% 16.7%
Other Renewables 6.6% 3.7%
Total Fossil Fuels 11.9% 66.6%
Nuclear 2.7% 13.0%

History of Hydroelectricity in Brazil

In 1883, the first hydro plant in Brazil came into operation on the river Ribeirão do Inferno, but it was not made for the production of electricity for public services. World Ward I created difficulties for importing energy sources from other countries to Brazil, which enabled the entrance of new foreign companies in the national territory, such as:

  • Light.
  • Band and Share.
  • American and Foreign Power Company, also known as Amforp.
  • International Engineering Company, also known as Ieco.

During the 50s and 60s, changes in the Brazilian political scenario created national debates about the participation of state and national or foreign private initiative in the Brazilian infrastructure sector. National energy companies were created in order to develop the country and promote Brazilian energy independence.

Government Participation in the Hydroelectric Sector

With the military dictatorship – 1964 to 1985 – Brazilian hydro resources assumed a key role in Brazil and the participation of the state started a major push for the nationalization of already existing energy companies in the sector.

The largest part of the companies linked with Amforp, were incorporated into public and state companies. The government also acquired companies from Light group, creating the Light Serviços de Eletricidade, in Rio de Janeiro, and Eletropaulo, in São Paulo. The period was also remarked by huge public projects, such as the hydro plants of Tucuruí and Itaipu.

With the end of the dictatorship, nationalizations were undone and nowadays private and state companies operate in the hydroelectric sector in Brazil. In general, the construction of hydro plants was a result of Brazil’s desire for energy independence. Despite the struggles between the participation of foreign companies and of the state over the years, both promote the development of this market.

Brazilian Hydroelectric Plants

The Brazilian hydro power potential is the third biggest in the world. The only other countries with greater potential are Russia and China. Hydroelectric energy is responsible for producing 75 million KW nationwide. The country also has 158 plants in operation, 9 plants in construction and another 26 authorized to be built.

Brazil used to possess the largest hydro plant in the world on the Paraná river, named Itaipu. The plant has a capacity of 14,000 MW, corresponding to 20% of the national demand and 95% of the Paraguayan demand for electric energy. However, in 2009 the Chinese plant Three Gorges stole the title for the world’s largest hydro dam by power capacity from Brazil, producing 22,500 MW per month.

Rank of the ten largest Brazilian Hydroelectricity plants

Position Plant River State Capacity
1 Itaipu Paraná Paraná 14,000 MW
2 Belo Monte Xingu Pará 11,233 MW (still under construction)
3 São Luiz dos Tapajós Tapajós Pará 8,381 MW (project)
4 Tucuruí Tocantins Pará 8,370 MW
5 Ilha Solteira Paraná São Paulo 3,444 MW
6 Jirau Madeira Rondônia 3,300 MW (sitll under construction)
7 Xingó São Francisco Alagoas and Sergipe 3,162 MW
8 Santo Antônio Madeira Rondônia 3,150 MW (still under construction)
9 Paulo Afonso IV São Francisco Bahia 2,462 MW
10 Jatobá Tapajós Pará 2,338 MW (project)

How can hydroelectricity be problematic?

In Brazil, the expansion of hydro power projects in the last 30 years of the 20th century, on one hand, secured the supply of electricity for Brazilian industrialization and urbanization. However, on the other hand, it presented controversial and non-justifiable ventures based on the environmental and social impact generated and the amount of power that the hydro plants actually produce.

Hydroelectric power is often viewed as a way to generate clean energy, but this is not completely true. The construction of hydro plants – and therefore the construction of dams and lakes – causes various negative social and environmental impacts and damages. In Brazil, a few episodes have demonstrated the negative sides of hydro power.

Belo Monte

The construction of Belo Monte began in March of 2013, but the intention of building it is old. The project is from the 80s and has since been the target of protests. The plant will not operate at full capacity throughout the year. During the dry season, which is about 6 months, only 4.428 MW will be generated, while in the rainy season it will generate 11.233 MW. The construction will force almost 13 thousand indigenous Brazilians natives of 24 different ethnic groups off of their land.


The Balbina hydro plant is located on the Uatumã river in the Amazon Basin. The plant has been internationally criticized for being costly and having caused the biggest environmental disaster in the entire history of Brazil, because of the low generation of energy in relation to wetland that has been occupied. Balbina is also responsible for emitting a quantity of greenhouse gases superior to that which is emitted by a thermal plant of the same energy potential.


The hydro plant of Itaipu was a joint venture developed by Brazil and Paraguay on the Paraná river. In 1982, the creation of the artificial reservoir of Itaipu flooded the entire national park of Sete Quedas in Guaíra, in Paraná. The national park was one of the most visited touristic attractions in the country. The Sete Quedas falls were formed 8 million years ago and occupied a canyon 70 meters wide and 170 meters deep at some points. The flooding was televised and caused a national commotion.