Venezuela: the effects of El Niño threaten to paralyze the Guri dam

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The Venezuelan electricity system has been in crisis since 2009. One of the factors is climate change

Venezuela: the effects of El Niño threaten to paralyze the Guri dam

The Venezuelan electricity system has been in crisis since 2009. One of the triggers of this deficit is the effects of El Niño in Venezuela, caused by climate change. It is known that the Simón Bolívar Hydroelectric Plant (formerly Central Raúl Leoni) is responsible for the production of more than 60% of the energy volume consumed by the country, with a total production measure equivalent to 10,000 MW. Being one of the complexes with the largest hydroelectric capacity on the planet, surpassed only by the Three Gorges and Xiluodu dams in China and the Itaipu dams in Brazil.

Leer en español: Venezuela: los efectos del Niño amenazan con paralizar la represa del Gurí

By 2019, however, the hydroelectric plant is only producing a total of 5,000 MWh, motivated by the stoppage of four of its most important units and by 79% in the descent of the water level contributed by the Caroni River, main flow from which the plant is supplied. Despite the different measures provided regarding energy rationing plans, the country has had to face prolonged blackouts and shortages in the supply of drinking water. This has had a shocking decline in terms of the progress of society and the balance of trade.

Embalse del Gurí: a detailed chronology of a national energy collapse.

According to information sources corresponding to the Corporación Eléctrica Nacional (Corpoelec), during a total of three different opportunities, the well-known reservoir of the Gurí has reached its historic lows of great importance. During the last forty years, the relationship between electricity production and demand has become increasingly a factor, increasing by 6% with each passing year. On May 11, 2003, the first historical descent of this capacity was registered with a measure corresponding to 244.55 meters above sea level, at which time it was necessary to stop four turbogenerating units, which still today day they remain out of service.

With the arrival of the phenomenon of the child in the month of July 2009, a process of prolonged descent began, which in addition to motivating the two national blackouts that Venezuela has suffered recently, was also responsible for the Guri reaching a decline of 248 meters. Subsequently, in February 2016, this measure again worried the corporation after registering only 249 meters of altitude.

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From the technical point of view, these measures pose a severe problem for the operation of the 16 turbines that the engine room houses. According to the observations made by José Aguilar, technical operator of the aforementioned complex, each of these measures constitutes a severe risk after being on average about 5.9 meters above the zone of collapse or total paralysis. An event that if it were to happen could leave more than 70% of the country in darkness.

How does the reduction of rainfall affect the ecosystems and population of the Caroni river?

The Guri reservoir is a body of water with an area of 4 250 km² and a total capacity of 135 km³. So far, the lowest recorded levels of the complex had been located in the 1950s. However, after an extended drought period of more than 21 months in mid-2018, these historical lows could once again be appreciated. The average rainfall of the Caroní river basin has thus dropped by 70%. The indigenous and native population of the place has also witnessed how the effects of El Niño in Venezuela have affected the flow of other important local tributaries, as in the case of the Carrao, Akanán and Churún streams.

Another important consequence of the problem has been the recurrent forest fires that occurred in the area surrounding the facility. A factor that together with the elevation of temperatures has marked markedly the conservation of the vegetation and flora of the place. These same phenomena have also been responsible for continuous blackouts of recent form since they directly affect the main supply and distribution lines. The security system of the reservoir also has switches that turn off the system when the atmospheric temperature exceeds 40 degrees Celsius.

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What are the plans to mitigate the effects of the problem?

A total of four measures have been implemented, during the last decade, by these institutions with the hope of facing the aforementioned energy crisis. The first of these has been the use of thermoelectric energy to sustain the total voltaic charge of the country.

The plan initiated since 2010 contemplates the investment of 5000 billion dollars for the installation of several thermoelectric plants in various specific points of the country. In view of this measure, electricity rationing plans in Caracas and various parts of the country are also included as an important and second measure in such a scenario.

As a third option used by the national government, energy reduction and control plans for the national mining industry have been seen, as in the case of SIDOR, and a connection contract for the Isagen company to import 27.52 GWh from Colombia. Finally, it is known that several cloud seeding maneuvers have also been carried out, in which, the use of aircraft loaded with silver iodide powder, hopes to generate a greater rainfall to alleviate the different effects of El Niño in Venezuela.


LatinAmerican Post | Abraham Nuñez

Translated from "Venezuela: los efectos del Niño ame"nazan con paralizar la represa Guri"

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