Hydro-Electric Potential Assessments

Map of the State of Sao Paulo, with excess potential by basin


In 2011, CAF – the Development Bank of Latin America- through its Sustainable Energy Program, initiated an innovative program to evaluate the hydrological potential in Latin American and Caribbean countries. These types of studies are developed in collaboration with CAF’s GeoSUR Program.

The purpose of these studies, which are carried out in different countries of the region, is to determine the potential of each point in the hydrographic network of a country or region, in order to promote the efficient use of water resources and allow for the development of hydro-electrical generation projects by the public and private sectors.

Most of these types of studies were carried out in the region in the decade of the 1980’s, at a considerable cost, with methodologies that are now obsolete, and with an emphasis on large hydropower stations for certain limited geographic areas. Recent technological developments enable the preparation of these studies at a fraction of the original cost, with greater precision levels, and for more extensive areas.


The first study was developed in the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil, in cooperation with the EROS center of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). A methodology was adapted for this study which was used by the US Department of Energy in 2006, to measure the hydroelectric potential in that country. Two sources of data were used for this first stage of the study: 1) the digital elevation model generated by the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM, 30 meters resolution) of the State of Sao Paulo, and 2) climate and hydrography data provided by Brazil’s National Water Agency (ANA, for its acronym in Portuguese).

As a result of the first phase of the study, a digital map was generated with the theoretical potential of each 1 Km. segment for the State’s hydrographic network, estimating a total theoretical potential of 7.5 GW. The digital map served as input for the second phase of the project, where technical files were prepared for each project identified as having potential for development.

During this second phase, a usable potential of 1.5GW was estimated, exceeding by far the expectations of the Energy Secretariat, and with interesting possibilities for the development of small hydroelectric plants.

The data generated during the first phase of the study was placed in the map server of the GeoSUR Program for its public access. The server provides access to an interactive map of the state where a tranche of 1 Km in any river may be selected, to identify the theoretical hydroelectric potential and the related attributes. In total, information was generated for over 300,000 points in the hydrographic network. An Internet model was also developed to extract contour lines around sites of interest and to map the area to be flooded by new dams by providing the dam basic features. 

In 2013, a project with similar objectives was started in Peru, in cooperation with the Ministry of Energy of that country; for 2014, plans are being prepared for hydroelectric projects in Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. CAF, through a cooperation agreement with the USGS, may use the 30 meter SRTM model of the region to start studies in any other country which is interested in this type of project. 


                                                               Graphic section of the technical file generated as part of the study’s second phase 









Web tool to visualize the potential in each segment of the hydrological network of Sao Paulo.