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The Itaipu Dam and hydroelectric plant: a modern wonder of the world



1984 saw the completion of the Itaipu Dam, a massive hydroelectric plant located on the border of Brazil and Paraguay that was later named by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the seven modern wonders of the world.

In this ongoing series we’re looking back over half a century of engineering history to celebrate Fircroft’s 50th anniversary. This week we’ve reached 1984 - a year that thankfully did not live up to its Orwellian prediction but instead launched many inspirational projects, including this astonishing dam. 

The project is the result of a collaboration between two nations with mutual interest in the natural hydro resources located on the shared Paraná River. In 1966 Brazil and Paraguay signed the Ata do Iguaçu (Iguaçu Act), agreeing to jointly develop a hydroelectric facility that would supply power to both countries. 

Construction on the Itaipu Dam began in 1975. Over the next 9 years 12.3 million cubic metres of concrete - enough for 210 football stadiums - would be poured to build a 196m high dam that ran 7,919m in length. A section of the Paraná River was successfully rerouted in 1978 so that the dam could be built on the now-dry riverbed.

Four rock crushing centres were installed, two on each bank, and six concrete mixing plants with a capacity of 180 cubic metres/h each. Two monorails, seven aerial cableways and 13 tower cranes transported workers and materials to the site. 

By 1982 the dam works were completed and the formation of the artificial lake could take place. The side canal’s gates were closed to allow water to fill the reservoir. A period of heavy rains and flooding through the month of October meant that the water reached the gates of the spillway having risen 100 metres in just 14 days.

On the 5th may 1984 the first unit began generating power. 19 more units would follow at a rate of one installation every 2-3 years. The 20th and final unit was installed in 2007. 

The plant has an installed generation capacity of 14GW with an instantaneous generation and accumulated generation capacity of 10,571MW and 85 million MWh. The accumulated generation of the plant is 1.6 billion MWh.

The its installed capacity is less than China’s Three Gorges Dam, it regularly surpasses the production of the larger dam and holds the world record for energy produced, achieving 103.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2016. 

In 1994 the Itaipu Dam was named as one of the seven modern wonders of the world by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Around 40,000 people were involved in the construction. 
To date it has generating over 2,688 TWh of energy.

50 years of connecting people

Travel back with us through 50 years of engineering accomplishments to celebrate Fircroft’s 50th anniversary. Read last week’s look back at 1983 and the birth of the internet. 

Fircroft have been recruiting engineering and technical professionals for major global projects since 1970. Register with us today to find out how our experienced team can help you secure your next job.

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The Itaipu Dam and hydroelectric plant: a modern wonder of the world - Time to read 3 min
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