WATER WAY TO GO

Ecuador 2014 | ENERGY | FOCUS: RENEWABLES

The age of hydrocarbons for electricity production in Ecuador is coming to an end, with hydro set to take center stage in a new drive by the government.

Ecuador has long been an oil country, both in production and consumption terms, with 76% of the energy consumed in the country coming from petroleum and 4% from natural gas. However, the government has set new plans in motion to redefine the electricity production matrix, which could make it one of the most green countries in the world when it comes to electricity.

When it comes to power, hydro is the crown prince waiting to be king. The government announced in March 2014 that by 2016 approximately 90% of the country's electricity will come from hydroelectric power plants. The bulk of this will come from eight hydroelectric megaprojects, which include the Coca Coda Sinclair, Cardenillo, Sopladora, and Minas-San Francisco. The government even hopes that it will be able to export surplus electricity to neighboring countries. Currently, hydroelectric accounts for around 50% of Ecuador's electricity generation and it produced 11 billion kWh in 2011. At the moment, the largest plant is located in Azuay province. Paute-Molino is the country's single largest complex with a capacity of 1.1 GW, one-fifth of the total capacity of the country at 5.3 GW. However, there are six more mega-hydro plants on the way, with Coca Coda Sinclair the largest with a predicted capacity of 1.5 GW alone. “Coca Coda is of national interest for Ecuador to help solve its energy problems. Out of the eight hydroelectricity projects underway in Ecuador at the moment, Coca Coda Sinclair is the most important," Cai Runguo, Senior Advisor of Sinohydro, explained to TBY in an interview. The project has been underway for four years, and while it has run into a couple of problems during construction, the plant is expected to come online in 2016. It is hoped that once more hydropower plants come on stream, the price of electricity will fall, which could have an environmental impact on the country. “We are hoping to encourage Ecuadorean families to switch to using electric cookers to promote cleaner, cheaper electricity usage. As a result, the project not only has an economic significance for the country, but also an environmental one," Runguo explained. With the introduction of cheaper electricity, it is also hoped that more rural areas will be able to connect to the grid. Currently, nearly 8% of the population, who mostly live in rural areas, are without electricity.

Due to Ecuador being a tropical country, hydro is a logical step for its electricity production matrix due to the country's high amount of rainfall in the right areas. However, the government does not wish to put all its eggs in one basket and is investigating the possibility of wind power as well. In March 2013, the government studied the landscape of Ecuador and found that it has a potential to produce 884 MW of wind energy. The greatest potential was along the western edge of the Andean spine at high altitudes. The province of Loja was also pinpointed as a high potential area with a possible capacity of 520 MW identified. The province was actually home to the first onshore utility wind farm, which produces 16.5 MW in the Vilonace development. The site is 2,700 meters above sea level and came online in January 2013.