Hydroelectricity in Brazil

Dallas Lloyd
November 12, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2014


Fig. 1: Mascarenhas de Moraes Dam. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Mankind is consuming energy at an all-time high. Unfortunately and inevitably, energy consumption will continue to rise day by day. The quest for an environment-friendly, effective way to satisfy consumption needs is an ongoing process. Governments and experts worldwide are diligently working to find ecofriendly solutions. Hydroelectricity is one of the solutions.

Hydroelectricity provides more than 80% of energy generated in Brazil. [1] Brazil is found in the list of top ten energy producing countries in the world and hydroelectricity has played a major role in its success.

What is Hydroelectricity?

Hydroelectricity is the production of electrical power through the use of water. A hydroelectric power plant and a dam are built. Water flows from an elevated reservoir through hydraulic turbines that are connected to a generator, leading to production of electricity. After water has flown from the reservoir and passed through the turbine, it's released into the river below.

Fig. 2: Drought in Brazil. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Hydropower is considered renewable and ecofriendly because it uses the natural flow of water from the earth and is designed to affect the environment in minimal negative ways.

Brazil has the perfect geography for hydroelectric production. The elevation changes, large rivers, and high levels of precipitation qualify Brazil for hydroelectric success. The large rivers and elevation changes provide opportunities to build dams and use gravity to control the flow of water. The high levels of precipitation provide a consistent water flow, which allows a consistent production of electricity. Over 80% of Brazil's electrical energy comes from hydroelectricity. [1] Generally, the reservoirs fill up during the stormy summers from March to December and deplete during the winter. Hydroelectricity is so effective in Brazil that it provided electricity for the 2014 World Cup, which had an estimated 3,500,000 attendees. Considering the massive amount of electricity required to provide these tourists, hydroelectricity has proved to be the figurative backbone of the source of electricity in Brazil.

With electricity demands exponentially increasing, what lies in store for the future of hydropower in Brazil?

The Problematic Future of Hydroelectricity in Brazil

Unfortunately, the exponentially increasing demands for electricity aren't what experts are currently worried about in Brazil. The true enemy of hydroelectricity: drought. Without water, it's impossible to generate power. Brazil is currently in a serious drought and the main reservoir in Sao Paulo is nearly empty. An estimated 95% of the water in the reservoir is gone. Not only does this drought have Brazilians worried about crops and livestock, but it also has them worried about electricity. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy in 2014, drought conditions reduced Brazil's output by 7%. [2] To give an idea of just how serious the drought conditions in Brazil are, consider the following: "On February 10th the water levels in southeast and centre-west, home to 70% of the country's reservoirs and half its people, dipped below 37% capacity, the lowest since 2001." [1]

Experts are currently working on implementing a more stable, new form of sustainable energy to replace hydropower. Among new alternatives, wind energy seems to be the most promising because of the constant high levels of wind on the northern coast of Brazil, 3347 km to be precise. The states of Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Permambuco, and Bahia have installed wind energy plants that are currently providing electricity. Experts figure that the winds are much more constant than the rain, which will lead to a more stable and reliable future for electricity in Brazil.

© Dallas Lloyd. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Rain-checked," The Economist, 15 Feb 14.

[2] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy," British Petroleum, June 2014.