Paraguayan Power

Even most rural Paraguayans now have power lines connecting their homes to the massive Itaipu hydroelectric dam built in the early 1970s across the Paraná River between Brazil and Paraguay. At Itaipu, which means "the sound of a stone" in the native Guarani language spoken throughout Paraguay, massive volumes of water pound through immense turbines on the way down toward the sea. Itaipu’s spinning turbines produce over 90 terawatt-hours of electricity per year. That’s more than any other dam in the world, including China’s vast new Three Gorges Dam. It’s enough to keep 10,000,000,000,000 90-watt light bulbs burning for an hour! To produce so much electricity in a conventional power plant would require the extraction, transportation and burning of some 434,000 barrels of petroleum every single day.

Itaipu produces more than enough energy for every single person in Paraguay and millions of Brazilians, too. But the power lines don’t quite reach everybody, and many Paraguayans can’t afford to pay an electricity bill or to buy the televisions, computers, refrigerators, and other gadgets most of us take for granted. But one thing nobody can live without is clean water, and to pump it out of the ground takes energy. So on remote farms and ranches beyond the reach of power lines, like some we passed along the Paraguay River, people pump water using the power of the wind to turn much smaller turbines than those at Itaipu.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.