This South American giant of hydropower is smashing records

Situated on the Parana River, the Itaipu dam straddles the border between Brazil and Paraguay.

Here, Sustainable Energy takes a look at this icon of hydropower, assessing the impact it has on the countries it supplies energy to.

Scale

In its first year of operation Itaipu produced 276,529 megawatt hours of power. In 2016, that figure hit 103,098,366 megawatt hours, a world record for annual generation.

In terms of scale, Itaipu is vast. The dam's length – when taking into account the Hernandarias dike – is 7,919 meters, while its maximum height hits 196 meters.

A staggering 12.3 million cubic meters of concrete were used in its construction, with the steel and iron used enough to build 380 Eiffel Towers.

"Our generating units are 700 megawatts each," Juliano Portela, an engineer at Itaipu Binacional, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy. "We have 20 generating units installed, which comprises a total of 14,000 megawatts," he added.

Nilton Sergio Ramos Quoirin | Moment | Getty Images

Energy

The energy impact of Itaipu has been significant. According to Itaipu Binacional, the facility generates roughly 17 percent of the energy used in Brazil and 76 percent of the energy consumed in Paraguay.

It frequently surpasses expectations, according to Portela. "We have a project number of generating a production of 75 terawatt hours per year, but this number is surpassed year after year: in the last year we produced 103 terawatt hours."

Going forward

The plant, Itaipu Binacional say, is now "at the limit of its physical capacity and at the peak of production."

Plans to upgrade the generating units are underway, with investment of $500 million eyed. Among other things, preventive maintenance and the updating of technology will be looked at.

"The idea is to keep the plant competitive until the next century," the facility's Jorge Samek said at the beginning of January this year.