Seed Fund success story: Charging up public dialogue about Paraguay's energy future

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Monday, Dec 16, 2019 - 9:50 am

The Duke University Energy Initiative's Energy Research Seed Fund supports promising early-stage energy research at Duke, often leading to significant follow-on funding from external sources. But the Energy Initiative tracks and values other outcomes, too… like when a team’s work goes viral. 

Christine Folch (center) and students Emily Davenport (MEM/MBA’20) and Connor Vasu (T’19) checked out Itaipú Dam’s Turbine 6, which spins at 90 rotations per minute.

In 2018, the Fund supported a Duke team that sought to conduct a “listening tour” on the future of the massive Itaipú Binational Dam, which supplies 18% of Brazil’s electricity and 85% of Paraguay’s. In 2023, the 50th anniversary of the Itaipú Dam treaty, the dam’s energy pricing and distribution agreements will be up for renegotiation. Led by cultural anthropologist Dr. Christine Folch, the team sought to learn about Paraguayans’ visions for how their country could leverage energy generated by Itaipú to drive sustainable development. 

The team shared its findings in a policy brief and white paper and presented to the media, government officials, and diverse stakeholders in Paraguay. This work has since garnered significant media and public attention in Paraguay. By August 2019, Folch’s recent testimony to the Paraguayan Congress had garnered more than 100,000 views and about 5,000 shares on Facebook, with even more views on WhatsApp. 

Christine Folch in the news
Folch's insights were featured by Paraguayan newspaper Última Hora

“Stakeholders throughout Paraguay want to make wise use of this crucial natural resource,” says Folch, whose book Hydropolitics: The Itaipú Dam, Sovereignty, and the Engineering of Modern South America was published by Princeton University Press this fall. “But they’re a small country that has limited resources to devote to planning. Duke University’s leadership on this issue has helped to inform and drive public dialogue about Paraguay’s future.”

And this success story is far from over: Folch will continue to advise the Paraguayan congressional energy negotiation commission as 2023 approaches.

The Energy Initiative invites Duke researchers to submit proposals for its seventh annual round of Energy Research Seed Fund grants. The deadline is 5 p.m. ET on Feb. 14, 2020.