Colombia's river streamflows are well below historical averages

Lack of rainfall has pushed the electrical system to the point of stress

While we anticipate that Colombia’s energy resources will be sufficient to avoid rationing, multinationals operating in the country should prepare their production strategies for potential power outages. Outages could occur if water resources continue to diminish at the current rate or if a major malfunction happens in one of the key hydroelectric or thermal power plants.


The El Niño weather phenomenon has been relentless in Colombia, and its prolonged duration is draining the country’s water resources, leading to hydric stress. Twenty-three of the 32 departments are already experiencing some form of water scarcity, while hydropower generation diminishes daily due to low rainfall affecting rivers’ streamflow.

  • Although in normal conditions hydropower can represent up to 70–80% of total electricity generation, due to falling reservoir levels and diminished rivers’ streamflow, fossil fuel power plants have increased their participation in the energy grid, surpassing 50% of the country’s effective generation by April 14.  
  • Meanwhile, fossil fuel sources are already operating near their capacity limits; gas power plants are running at 82%, coal power plants are utilizing 88% of their capacity, and diesel power plants are at 60%. 
  • Given that all thermal sources collectively account for only 28.2% of the total system generation capacity, if water resources keep diminishing at the current rate, thermal plants will struggle to meet Colombia’s electricity demand. This situation could result in energy shortages and planned rationing across the country. 
  • While the El Niño phenomenon has significantly contributed to the decrease in rainfall, other factors, such as the lack of winds in the intertropical storm, have also curtailed the expected rainfall for late March and early April.
  • In Bogotá, Mayor Carlos Galán has declared water rationing due to sub-optimal levels in the city’s drinking water reservoir. In several municipalities across the country, local authorities have imposed limited water consumption controls to prevent acute scarcity issues in the coming weeks.
  • Faced with a potential risk of rationing, the Ministry of Mines and Energy along with various stakeholders in the electrical system called an emergency meeting to address water scarcity in the system. As a first measure, it decided to halt energy exports to Ecuador, a country experiencing an even more acute electrical crisis than Colombia, and which has been suffering from repeated power outages since the end of 2023, including in its major cities.
  • The decision to halt electricity exports to Ecuador has led to the declaration of 60 days of emergency by President Daniel Noboa’s government to address the lack of energy. On April 15, Ecuador’s energy ministry confirmed there will be energy rationing in April.

Our View

During an ongoing El Niño weather event in March 2016, Colombia narrowly avoided energy rationing. A short circuit triggered a fire in the access tunnel to the powerhouse at the San Carlos hydropower plant, which partially destroyed the transmission cables and resulted in a loss of 1,200 MWh of capacity. This incident was compounded by a malfunction at the Termoflores gas power plant, which restricted an additional 169 MWh of capacity, precipitating an emergency that led to a national campaign to reduce energy consumption.

If any of the major hydroelectric or thermal plants experience a malfunction under the current conditions, the country is likely to face another emergency. Given the significant increase in demand relative to power generation compared to 2016, this situation could potentially lead to energy rationing this time around.

Colombia’s weather institute (IDEAM) is forecasting a 10–30% increase in rainfall in the country in April, a 10–20% additional increase in May, and an additional rise of 10% for June. May and June are poised to be the start of La Niña weather phenomena, which unlike El Niño, is characterized by heavy rainfalls. Since major hydropower resources are concentrated in Colombia’s Andean regions, especially in Antioquia, an increase in rainfall over the next weeks will be crucial for avoiding power rationing. 

We expect these additional increases in rainfall to be sufficient to partially restore water levels in reservoirs. However, until water reservoirs are replenished, Colombia still faces an elevated risk of energy rationing.

At FrontierView, our mission is to help our clients grow and win in their most important markets. We are excited to share that FiscalNote, a leading technology provider of global policy and market intelligence has acquired FrontierView. We will continue to cover issues and topics driving growth in your business, while fully leveraging FiscalNote’s portfolio within the global risk, ESG, and geopolitical advisory product suite.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter The Lens published by our Global Economics and Scenarios team which highlights high-impact developments and trends for business professionals. For full access to our offerings, start your free trial today and download our complimentary mobile app, available on iOS and Android.