COME THE RAIN

Colombia 2014 | ENERGY & MINING | FOCUS: HYDROPOWER

Hydropower dominates Colombia's generation sector, with much potential remaining to be unlocked. Adverse weather conditions, however, will keep natural gas in the frame, too.

Dry weather conditions, a result of El Niño, led to a halt in gas exports to Venezuela as Colombian authorities scrambled to ensure a steady supply of energy as hydropower plants began to spin dry. But when conditions are normal, the country's hydro facilities represent the most significant share in generation capacity, with much more planned for the future.

Hydroelectric plants represent approximately 60% of Colombia's total installed capacity of 14.4 GW, or around 9 GW, and provide approximately 70% of total generated electricity. Natural gas represents 26% of generation, with coal on 3%, and the remainder represented by wind power and other sources, such as biomass. In terms of renewables, that gives hydropower a share of over 95%. On a global scale, Colombia's 9 GW of hydroelectric generation represents 1.13% of the 2013 global total of 800 GW, according to the US Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration. The global leader is China, with 229 GW, followed by Brazil with 84 GW and the US with 79 GW.

Colombia does, however, have the potential to round Brazil into second, with estimated potential of 93 GW overall, enough to meet national demand seven times over, according to a speech made by Roberto Vélez, Colombian Ambassador to the UAE. The Ambassador, speaking during a series of lectures to students at the Masdar Institute, also touched on the level of investment Colombia has enjoyed in its hydropower sector, with Spain's Endesa, operating locally via its subsidiary Emgesa, holding 51% of the 1,213 MW Guavio plant, the largest hydro plant in the country. On top of that, US-based AES is the proud owner of the 1,000 MW Chivor hydro plant in Bogotá.

In hydropower consumption terms, Colombia went through 10 million tons of oil equivalent in 2013, up from 7 million tons in 1998. A peak, however, was reached in 2011 when 10.9 million tons were consumed, following 9.1 million tons in the preceding year. Consumption figures for 2014, however, will likely be far from the peak, with dry weather conditions, as well as flooding in some areas as a result of the El Niño phenomenon, leading to a halt in gas exports to neighboring Venezuela as authorities clamored to maintain generation alternatives. The move was certainly drastic, as in October 2013, for example, 89% of all gas exported (57.8 GWh) was destined for Venezuela.

As a sign of things to come, work is currently ongoing on the largest hydropower plant in Colombia. At 2,400 MW, the Ituango hydroelectric plant will far surpass the 1,213 MW Guavio plant, and is taking shape on the banks of the Cauca River in the northwest of the country. The project is being developed by the Colombian firm EPM, will cost $5.51 billion, and the first stage is set to come online in 2018, followed by the second stage in 2022. When complete, it will represent 13% of Colombia's total installed generation capacity. It will also provide 6,000 direct jobs. Despite being susceptible to weather conditions, Colombia is throwing its entire weight behind the advancement of the hydropower sector. And although gas is likely to remain a robust segment, hydropower will continue to rule the roost as Colombia looks to up exports and best utilize its natural resources.