The Itaipu dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Paraná River located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, but first we had to get there. I got up early and watched the sunrise while driving – AMAZING!
Taking a small short cut on a cobblestone street, but the closer we got the bigger and better road got
In the Guarani language, Itaipu means “the sounding stone”. The dam is binational, which means that everything is divided 50/50 between Brazil and Paraguay. Here you see how the control room is divided in two (left picture), the controls of Paraguay is to the right (bottom of the picture) and the controls of Brazil to the left (upper part of the picture). In the right picture you have the diagram over the 20 electric generators. The Brazilian side works with 60 HZ and the Paraguay side works with 50 Hz.
Since the output capacity of the Paraguayan generators far exceeds the load in Paraguay, most of their production is exported directly to the Brazilian side. In Brazil the majority of the energy goes to São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where the 50HZ is converted into 60 Hz. Brazil is the only country in South America that work on 60 Hz. The power lines runs for about 800 kilometers.
How was the dam built? On April 26, 1973, Brazil and Paraguay signed the Itaipu Treaty, the legal instrument for the hydroelectric exploitation of the Paraná River by the two countries. On May 17, 1974, the Itaipu Binacional entity was created to administer the plant’s construction. The construction began in January of the following year (1974). On October 14, 1978, the Paraná River (the seventh biggest river in the world) had its route changed, which allowed a section of the riverbed to dry so the dam could be built there. 50 million tons of earth and rock were moved, which is 8.5 times greater when building the Eurotunnel between Trance and England. The iron and steel used would allow for the construction of 380 Eiffel Towers. On May 5, 1984, the first generation unit started running in Itaipu. The first 18 units were installed at the rate of two to three a year; the last two of these started running in the year 1991. Around 40.000 people worked on the construction of the dam, today (2016) 3038 people are employed at the plant (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Itaipu_Dam).
The total length of the dam is 7,235 meters – panoramic view of Itaipu
There are 20 electric generation units in total now, and the last two units started operations in September 2006 and in March 2007, thus raising the installed capacity to 14 GW and completing the power plant. This increase in capacity allows 18 generation units to run permanently while two are shut down for maintenance. Due to a clause in the treaty signed between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, the maximum number of generating units allowed to operate simultaneously cannot exceed 18. The Itaipu Dam’s hydroelectric power plant produced the most energy of any in the world as of 2016, setting a new world record of 103,098,366 megawatt hours (MWh), and surpassed the Three Gorges Dam (in China) plant in energy production in 2015 and 2016.
The Treaty that gave origin to the power plant was signed in 1973. The terms of the treaty, which expires in 2023, gives Paraguay the possibility to sell their over production of electricity to other countries in South America, but for now they are only allowed to sell it to Brazil.
We decided to go on the special tour, which includes a visit inside the dam. We came at lunch time, and had to wait until 2.30 pm to get an English speaking guide. The tour is 82 Reales per person (21 USD). After checking our tickets we saw an introduction movie in the theater, and then we had to wait 30 minutes before the tour was really starting. Absolutely typical for South America. So I was killing the waiting time, but finally we could enter the bus, and arrived at the entrance to go inside the dam.
The dam is of the hollow gravity type. It is 34 meters wide and 196 meters high, equivalent to a 65-story building. So it is a long way down to see the dam on the inside. We entered the elevator at 144 meters (the levels mark the meters from the bottom of the dam, check the middle picture), and went down.
Watching one of the generator units spinning. The turbine it self is 22 meters in diameter, and the big tube leads water through the turbine and makes it spin is 10.5 meters in diameter. The flow of two generators is roughly equivalent to the average flow of the Iguaçu Falls.
This is the generators hall, where you can see the red covers of the 20 generators
This is the spillway, which has a length of 483 meters. The maximum flow of Itaipu’s spillway is equivalent to 40 times the average flow of the nearby natural Iguaçu Falls. In the left picture you see the spillway from the top of the dam, while in the right picture you see the spillway from a viewpoint across the dam.
In total there are 60 generators, three for each generator raising the output voltage from the unit from 18kV to 500kV. To keep the temperature down the dam has a cooling system of forced oil and water circulation. So the water spray coming from the dam in the left picture is from the cooling system.
It was getting late, and the sun was setting behind the power lines
Catching an amazing photo of the Piúva ou Ipê Roxo (Tabebuia impetiginosa), a native tree in Brazil
We said goodbye to Itaipu, tomorrow we are gonna visit the Iguacu falls before leaving Brazil. We have head that the Iguacu falls is big, but think about this… the flow of water in the Parana river, that flows through the Itaipu dam is 40 times bigger than the water flow at Iguacu falls. It is just a lot of water.