Sustainable Energy

Latin America’s most spectacular dams

De Agostini | De Agostini Editorial | Getty Images

From Brazil to Venezuela, Latin America is home to some of the world's largest dams and hydroelectricity is an increasingly important source of power on the continent.

Brazil, for instance, depends on hydroelectricity for more than 75 percent of its electric power supply, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Globally, hydropower accounts for over 16 percent of electricity generation and roughly 85 percent of the world's renewable electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. It describes hydro as a clean source of energy that can act as an enabler to other sources of renewable energy.

However, some dams have proved highly controversial in Latin America, with concerns about the displacement of large numbers of people and the destruction of the Amazon rain-forest.

Here, CNBC's "Sustainable Energy" takes a look at some of South America's most impressive hydro installations and their impact on the environment. Some are already in operation, others are up-and-coming.

—By Anmar Frangoul, special to, on Thursday April 16 2015.

Itaipu Dam, Brazil/Paraguay

Laurie Noble | The Image Bank | Getty Images

The Itaipu Dam, on the border between Paraguay and Brazil, is the world's second largest hydroelectric facility after the Three Gorges Dam in China.

According to Itaipu Binacional, the dam—which is 196 meters at its highest point and over seven kilometers long—produced 87,800 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity in 2014.

Itaipu provides about 75 percent of energy consumed in Paraguay and meets roughly 17 percent of Brazil's energy needs.

Ilha Solteira Dam, Brazil

Eduardo Barcellos | SambaPhoto | Getty Images

Construction of the Ilha Solteira Dam's hydroelectric power station in South Central Brazil was completed in 1978.

The dam—located on the Parana River and bordering the states of Sao Paolo and Mato Grosso do Sul—is over five kilometers in length and has a capacity of 3.4 gigawatts (GW).

Salto Grande Dam, Uruguay/Argentina

Miguel Rojo | AFP | Getty Images

Located on the Río Uruguay between the Argentinian city of Concordia and the Uruguayan city of Salto, the Salto Grande Dam became fully operational in 1983.

The dam is vital to both Argentina and Uruguay and produces an average of 7,812 GWh of electricity every year. It meets 7 percent of the energy consumption in Argentina and 50 percent of the energy used in Uruguay, according to

Tocoma Dam, Venezuela

Last Refuge | Robert Harding World Imagery | Getty Images

Still under construction, the Manuel Piar Hydroelectric Power Plant—also known as the Tocoma Dam—is part of a larger hydroelectric project in Venezuela's Lower Caroní River Basin.

Built by IMPSA, a major Argentinian renewable energy company, the Tocoma powerhouse contains 10 generating units, which will have a final installed capacity of 2.3 GW and will supply electricity to over five million homes.

Caruachi Dam, Venezuela

Andrew Alvarex | AFP | Getty Images

Caruachi Dam in Venezuela stands 74 meters high, while its power plant has a capacity of 2.1 GW and the largest turbines in the world, according to Dragados North America, a firm involved in its construction.

Pictured here are Nestor Kirchner and Hugo Chavez, the late presidents of Argentina and Venezuela, on a visit to the dam in 2005.

Chicoasen Dam, Mexico

Susana Gonzalez | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Chicoasen Dam on the Grijalva river in Chiapas is part of Mexico's largest hydroelectric power plant, with a capacity of 2.4 GW, according to the International Hydropower Association (IHA).

The IHA states that Mexico's installed hydropower capacity was 11.5 GW in 2013, with 18 percent of the country's electricity generation coming from hydro.

Belo Monte Dam, Brazil

Taylor Weidman | LightRocket | Getty Images

Under construction in the state of Para in Brazil, the Belo Monte Dam Complex has proved particularly controversial. According to Amazon Watch, the dam will divert 80 percent of the Xingu river's flow, devastating over 1,500 square kilometers of rain-forest and displacing up to 40,000 people.

The vast hydroelectric dam is expected to be fully operational by 2019 with a capacity of 11.2 GW, making it the world's third largest.

Nova Avanhandava Dam, Brazil

Fernando Podolski | iStock | Getty Images

Situated on the Rio Tietê, in Sao Paolo state (pictured) in Brazil, the Nova Avanhandava facility became operational in 1982.

Nova Avanhandava is equipped with three turbines. According to operator AES Tiete, the combined production of Nova Avanhandava and four other plants on the Tietê amounts to 1 GW.