I wasn't able to make it to Iguazu Falls while in Ciudad del Este, but I did visit the largest electricity generating plant in the world, the Itaipu hydroelectric dam. Itaipu means "the rock that sings" in Guarani, a name taken from the island which used to occupy the dam's location in the Paraná river and that according to legend, was made to emit special sounds by the powerful water rushing by it. The pictures don't provide an accurate enough vision of its scale, but here are some facts:
- Itaipu produces an average of 14 megawatts of power from 20 700MW turbines. It provides 95% of Paraguay's electricity demand (from just 2 turbines) and 20% of Brazil's (the other 18 turbines, 7 of which are owned by Paraguay).
- Construction started in 1973 with the foundation of the Itaipu Binacional corporation between Brazil and Paraguay. It took 17 years, involved 40,000 workers, moved 60 million tons of earth, used as much concrete as that contained by the entire city of Rio de Janeiro (or 210 times that of the Maracaná stadium), and enough steel to build 340 Eiffel towers.
- The dam creates a 220m vertical drop for the water driving the turbines. Upon completion, it formed a 170km wide lake, with innumerable other enormous environmental transformations in what was essentially virgin Atlantic tropical forest (mata atlántica).
- Though the area is not particularly tectonically active, the dam was designed to withstand 10 Richter scale earthquakes. The excess capacity gates (orange, on the left in the pictures) and slide are designed to support a throughput of up to 40 times the total debit of Iguazu Falls.
- Each turbine weighs 1,800 tons. They were manufactured in Switzerland, brought to Brazil by boat and then trucked to the construction site at 5km per hour.
- Construction was principally funded by $20 billion in foreign loans. Paraguay's excess electricity will go directly to Brazil until 2033 in order to pay off the country's debt to its neighbour.
- Its annual production summed-up corresponds to 2 days of the entire planet's electricity consumption.
That's a lot of watts!