A consortium of GE Renewable Energy Hydro and Grid Solutions, along with Paraguayan firms Tecnoedil and CIE, has won a $649-million, 14-year contract for upgrades to the Itaipu hydropower plant in South America, the world's second largest, following the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China.

Located on the Paraná River on the Brazil-Paraguay border, Itaipu went on line in 1984 and stands more than 650 ft tall and is nearly 5 miles long. It has 20 generating units with a combined 14-GW capacity, according to Itaipu Binacional, the plant operator. The plant provides about 10.8% of energy consumed in Brazil and 88.5% in Paraguay.

Pascal Radue, CEO and president of GE Renewable Energy Hydro Solutions, said in a statement that the project represents Itaipu’s largest technological upgrade project since its commissioning.

The plan calls for upgrades to the equipment and systems of all 20 generating units, plus to systems that monitor the plant’s measurement, protection, control and regulation, according to GE. The company will also supply new equipment such as energy management systems and automation technology.

CIE will be responsible for assembling equipment, and Tecnoedil will supply general materials, GE says. 

David Krug, the dam's executive technical director, said in a statement that many of its existing assets are analog. The outdated equipment includes some parts that cannot be replaced because the manufacturers no longer exist. In addition to eliminating the spare part problem, the upgrade will also improve plant operations and maintenance efficiency, Krug added.

Itaipu had its most productive year in 2016, when it generated about 103,100 GWh of energy. In 2021, one of the driest years since the plant opened, the plant generated about 66,000 GWh. Since commissioning in 1984, Itaipu has generated than 2.8 billion GWh  the most energy for a single facility in history

A GE-led consortium previously worked on a smaller, three-year modernization project of the dam that involved use of overhead cranes that also will be used in the upcoming project.