Hydropower assessment of Bolivia—A multisource satellite data and hydrologic modeling approach

Open-File Report 2016-1156
Prepared in cooperation with the CAF – Development Bank of Latin America
By: , and 



This study produced a geospatial database for use in a decision support system by the Bolivian authorities to investigate further development and investment potentials in sustainable hydropower in Bolivia. The study assessed theoretical hydropower of all 1-kilometer (km) stream segments in the country using multisource satellite data and a hydrologic modeling approach. With the assessment covering the 2 million square kilometer (km2) region influencing Bolivia’s drainage network, the potential hydropower figures are based on theoretical yield assuming that the systems generating the power are 100 percent efficient. There are several factors to consider when determining the real-world or technical power potential of a hydropower system, and these factors can vary depending on local conditions. Since this assessment covers a large area, it was necessary to reduce these variables to the two that can be modeled consistently throughout the region, streamflow or discharge, and elevation drop or head. First, the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission high-resolution 30-meter (m) digital elevation model was used to identify stream segments with greater than 10 km2 of upstream drainage. We applied several preconditioning processes to the 30-m digital elevation model to reduce errors and improve the accuracy of stream delineation and head height estimation. A total of 316,500 1-km stream segments were identified and used in this study to assess the total theoretical hydropower potential of Bolivia. Precipitation observations from a total of 463 stations obtained from the Bolivian Servicio Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología (Bolivian National Meteorology and Hydrology Service) and the Brazilian Agência Nacional de Águas (Brazilian National Water Agency) were used to validate six different gridded precipitation estimates for Bolivia obtained from various sources. Validation results indicated that gridded precipitation estimates from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) reanalysis product (3B43) had the highest accuracies. The coarse-resolution (25-km) TRMM data were disaggregated to 5-km pixels using climatology information obtained from the Climate Hazards Group Infrared Precipitation with Stations dataset. About a 17-percent bias was observed in the disaggregated TRMM estimates, which was corrected using the station observations. The bias-corrected, disaggregated TRMM precipitation estimate was used to compute stream discharge using a regionalization approach. In regionalization approach, required homogeneous regions for Bolivia were derived from precipitation patterns and topographic characteristics using a k-means clustering approach. Using the discharge and head height estimates for each 1-km stream segment, we computed hydropower potential for 316,490 stream segments within Bolivia and that share borders with Bolivia. The total theoretical hydropower potential (TTHP) of these stream segments was found to be 212 gigawatts (GW). Out of this total, 77.4 GW was within protected areas where hydropower projects cannot be developed; hence, the remaining total theoretical hydropower in Bolivia (outside the protected areas) was estimated as 135 GW. Nearly 1,000 1-km stream segments, however, were within the boundaries of existing hydropower projects. The TTHP of these stream segments was nearly 1.4 GW, so the residual TTHP of the streams in Bolivia was estimated as 133 GW. Care should be exercised to understand and interpret the TTHP identified in this study because all the stream segments identified and assessed in this study cannot be harnessed to their full capacity; furthermore, factors such as required environmental flows, efficiency, economics, and feasibility need to be considered to better identify a more real-world hydropower potential. If environmental flow requirements of 20–40 percent are considered, the total theoretical power available reduces by 60–80 percent. In addition, a 0.72 efficiency factor further reduces the estimation by another 28 percent. This study provides the base theoretical hydropower potential for Bolivia, the next step is to identify optimal hydropower plant locations and factor in the principles to appraise a real-world power potential in Bolivia.

Suggested Citation

Velpuri, N.M., Pervez, M.S., and Cushing, W.M., 2016, Hydropower assessment of Bolivia—A multisource satellite data and hydrologic modeling approach: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2016–1156, 65 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/ofr20161156.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Data
  • Hydrological Conditioning
  • Generation of Best Rainfall Dataset for Bolivia
  • Basin Regionalization
  • Estimation of Mean Annual Streamflow
  • Theoretical Hydropower Potential Assessment
  • Uncertainty in Theoretical Potential Hydropower Estimates
  • Summary and Conclusions
  • References Cited
  • Appendixes 1–5

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Hydropower assessment of Bolivia—A multisource satellite data and hydrologic modeling approach
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2016-1156
DOI 10.3133/ofr20161156
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center
Description Report: x, 65 p.; Appendixes: 2-4
Country Bolivia
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details