The Itaipu Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Paraná River located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. The name "Itaipu" was taken from an isle that existed near the construction site. In the Guarani language, Itaipu means "the sound of a stone". The American composer Philip Glass has also written a symphonic cantata named Itaipu, in honour of the structure.

The dam is the largest operating hydroelectric facility in terms of annual generating capacity, generating 94.7 TWh in 2008 and 91.6 TWh in 2009, while the annual generating capacity of the Three Gorges Dam was 80.8 TWh in 2008 and 79.4 TWh in 2009. It is a binational undertaking run by Brazil and Paraguay at the Paraná River on the border section between the two countries, 15 km (9.3 mi) north of the Friendship Bridge. The project ranges from Foz do Iguaçu, in Brazil, and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay, in the south to Guaíra and Salto del Guaíra in the north. The installed generation capacity of the plant is 14 GW, with 20 generating units providing 700 MW each with a hydraulic design head of 118 m. In 2008 the plant generated a record 94.68 billion kWh, supplying 90% of the energy consumed by Paraguay and 19% of that consumed by Brazil.

Of the twenty generator units currently installed, ten generate at 50 Hz for Paraguay and ten generate at 60 Hz for Brazil. Two 600 kV HVDC lines, each approximately 800 km long, carry both Brazilian and Paraguayan energy to São Paulo where the terminal equipment converts the power to 60 Hz.

Itaipu Dam
Itaipu Dam
Official name Central Hidroelétrica Itaipú Binacional
Usina Hidrelétrica Itaipu Binacional
Impounds Paraná River
Locale Brazil Foz do Iguaçu
Paraguay Ciudad del Este
Length 7,700 m (25,300 ft)
Height 196 m (643 ft)
Hydraulic head 118 m (387 ft)
Construction began January 1970
Opening date 5 May 1984
Construction cost US$ 19.6 billion
Maintained by Itaipu Binacional
Reservoir information
Creates Itaipu Reservoir
Capacity 29,000,000,000 m3 (1.0×1012 cu ft)
Catchment area 1,350 km2 (520 sq mi)
Power generation information
Turbines 20 × 700 MW
Installed capacity 14,000 MW
Annual generation 91,6 TWh (2009)
Pumped storage No

Negotiations between Brazil and Paraguay

The concept behind Itaipu Hydroelectric Power Plant was the result of heavy negotiations between the two countries during the 1960s. The "Ata do Iguaçu" (Iguaçu Act) was signed on July 22, 1966, by the Brazilian and Paraguayan Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Juracy Magalhães and Sapena Pastor, respectively. This was a joint declaration of the mutual interest in studying the exploitation of the hydric resources that the two countries shared in the section of the Paraná River starting from, and including, the Salto de Sete Quedas, to the Iguaçu River's watershed. The Treaty that gave origin to the power plant was signed in 1973.

The terms of the treaty, which expires in 2023, have been the subject of widespread discontent in Paraguay. The government of President Lugo vowed to renegotiate the terms of the treaty with Brazil, which long remained hostile to any renegotiation.

In 2009, Brazil agreed to a fairer payment of electricity to Paraguay and also allowed Paraguay to sell excess power directly to Brazilian companies instead of solely through the Brazilian electricity monopoly.

Construction starts

In 1970, the consortium formed by the companies IECO (from the United States of America) and ELC Electroconsult S.p.A. (from Italy) won the international competition for the realization of the viability studies and for the elaboration of the construction project. Work began in February 1971. 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 works began in January of the following year.

Paraná River rerouted

On October 14, 1978, the Paraná River had its route changed, which allowed a section of the riverbed to dry so the dam could be built there.

Agreement by Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina

An important diplomatic settlement was reached with the signing of the Acordo Tripartite by Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, on October 19, 1979. This agreement established the allowed river levels and how much they could change as a result of the various hydroelectrical undertakings in the watershed that was shared by the three countries. At that time, the three countries were ruled by military dictatorships. Argentina was concerned that, in the event of a conflict, Brazil could open the floodgates, raising the water level in the River Plate and consequently flood the capital city of Buenos Aires.

Formation of the lake

The plant's reservoir began its formation on October 13, 1982, when the dam works were completed and the side canal's gates were closed. Throughout this period, heavy rains and flooding accelerated the filling of the reservoir as the water rose 100 meters (330 ft) and reached the gates of the spillway at 10 a.m. on October 27.

Start of operations

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.

Capacity expansion in 2007

The last two of the 20 electric generation 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 will allow for 18 generation units to remain running all of the time while two stay 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 rated nominal power of each generating unit (turbine and generator) is 700 MW. However, because the head (difference between reservoir level and the river level at the foot of the dam) that actually occurs is higher than the designed head (118 m), the power available exceeds 750 MW half of the time for each generator.

Each turbine generates around 700 MW; by comparison, all the water from the Iguaçu Falls would have the capacity to feed only two generators.

November 2009 power failure

On November 10, 2009, transmission from the plant was totally disrupted, possibly due to a storm damaging up to three high-voltage distribution lines. Itaipu itself was not damaged. This caused massive power outages in Brazil and Paraguay, blacking out the entire country of Paraguay for 15 minutes, and plunging Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo into darkness for more than 2 hours. 50 million people were reportedly affected. The blackout hit at 10:13 p.m. local time. It affected the southeast of Brazil most severely, leaving São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo completely without electricity. Blackouts also swept through the interior of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso, the interior of Bahia and parts of Pernambuco, energy officials said. By 12:30 a.m. power had been restored to most areas.

Wonder of the Modern World

In 1994, the American Society of Civil Engineers elected the Itaipu Dam as one of the seven modern Wonders of the World. In 1995, the American magazine Popular Mechanics published the results.

Social and environmental impacts

When construction of the dam began, approximately 10,000 families living beside the Paraná River were displaced.

The world's largest waterfall by volume, the Guaíra Falls were drowned by the newly formed Itaipu reservoir. The Brazilian government liquidated the Guaíra Falls National Park, and dynamited the submerged rock face where the falls had been, facilitating safer navigation, but eliminating the possibility of restoring the falls in the future. A few months before the reservoir was filled, 80 people died when an overcrowded bridge overlooking the falls collapsed, as tourists sought a last glimpse of the falls.



  • The course of the seventh biggest river in the world was shifted, as were 50 million tons of earth and rock.
  • The amount of concrete used to build the Itaipu Power Plant would be enough to build 210 football stadiums the size of the Estádio do Maracanã.
  • The iron and steel used would allow for the construction of 380 Eiffel Towers.
  • The volume of excavation of earth and rock in Itaipu is 8.5 times greater than that of the Channel Tunnel and the volume of concrete is 15 times greater.
  • Around forty thousand people worked in the construction.
  • The cost of constructing Itaipu makes it one of the most expensive objects ever built.

Generating station and dam

  • The total length of the dam is 7235 m. The crest elevation is 225 m. Itaipu is actually four dams joined together — from the far left, an earth fill dam, a rock fill dam, a concrete main dam, and a concrete wing dam to the right.
  • The spillway has a length of 483 m.
  • The maximum flow of Itaipu's fourteen segmented spillways is 62.2 thousand cubic metres per second, into three skislope formed canals. It is equivalent to 40 times the average flow of the nearby natural Iguaçu Falls.
  • The flow of two generators (700 m3·s−1 each) is roughly equivalent to the average flow of the Iguaçu Falls (1500 m3·s−1).
  • If Brazil were to use Thermal Power Generation to produce the electric power of Itaipu, 434,000 barrels (69,000 m3) of petroleum would have to be burned every day.
  • The dam is 196 metres high, equivalent to a 65-story building.
  • Though it is the seventh largest reservoir in size in Brazil, the Itaipu's reservoir has the best relation between electricity production and flooded area. For the 14,000 MW installed power, 1350 square kilometres were flooded. The reservoirs for the hydroelectric power plants of Sobradinho Dam, Tucuruí Dam, Porto Primavera Dam, Balbina Dam, Serra da Mesa Dam and Furnas Dam are all larger than the one for Itaipu, but have a smaller installed generating capacity. The one with the largest hydroelectric production, Tucuruí, has an installed capacity of 8,000 MW, while flooding 2,430 km2 (938 sq mi) of land.


Annual production of energy
Year Installed units GWh
1984 0–2 277
1985 2–3 6,327
1986 3–6 21,853
1987 6–9 35,807
1988 9–12 38,508
1989 12–15 47,230
1990 15–16 53,090
1991 16–18 57,517
1992 18 52,268
1993 18 59,997
1994 18 69,394
1995 18 77,212
1996 18 81,654
1997 18 89,237
1998 18 87,845
1999 18 90,001
2000 18 93,428
2001 18 79,307
2002 18 82,914
2003 18 89,151
2004 18 89,911
2005 18 87,971
2006 19 92,690
2007 20 90,620
2008 20 94,684
2009 20 91,652
Total 20 1,760,547