Green Summer: For the first time, Brazil will power its grid with clean energy alone

ByEdgar Maciel

Green Summer: For the first time, Brazil will power its grid with clean energy alone

Year after year, Brazil has expanded its capacity for clean energy generation. In 2023, the country is poised to achieve a historic milestone: the first summer when it will not rely on polluting energy sources to power its grid. Against the backdrop of abundant rainfall in recent months, the reservoirs of hydroelectric plants are expected to close the year at the highest level of the decade. Furthermore, the South American nation can celebrate the widespread adoption of solar and wind energy.

At the beginning of the year, hydroelectric, wind and solar sources accounted for an average of 91% of the total energy generated in Brazil. The prediction for December, when the new season begins, is that clean energy sources will constitute an average of 94-96% of the total energy mix. According to forecasts by the National Electric System Operator, fossil fuel-based power plants will only be utilized in the case of extreme emergencies.

Hydroelectric plants continue to be the main source of energy, accounting for 77% of the clean energy mix supplied this year, data by the Electric Energy Commercialization Chamber (CCEE) shows. From January to June, wind energy represented 11.9% of the total distributed energy and is expected to increase to 18%. In the case of solar energy, the percentage is set to rise from the 3.3% recorded in the first half of the year to 6.5%.

Fig.1. Electric power generation mix

Source: ONS

Infrastructure

Analyzing the supply aspect alone, Brazil finds itself in a favorable position even to the extent of being in a position to export energy. Of the 70,000 MW generated in the first quarter, 1,445 MW were supplied to Argentina and Uruguay.

“We’ve reached the end of the wet season with comfortable water reservoir levels in the country and a substantial contribution from alternative energy sources, which aid in complementing the energy supply,” said Rui Altieri, President of CCEE.

For José Goldemberg, a Professor at the Institute of Energy and Environment at the University of São Paulo, this is an important position to be in, particularly in view of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine which has placed Europe in a serious energy crisis.

He believes that uncertainties surrounding the supply of oil and gas, as well as price fluctuations, have led countries to adopt a new form of “energy nationalism” as they seek to reduce imports.

“In this context, renewable energies make a significant contribution, a trend in which Brazil is leading Europe,” Goldemberg confirmed.

This progress is also viewed positively by experts because while diversifying its energy mix, the country can achieve environmental gains. It also results in lower costs for consumers and complements an energy source that relies on rainfall patterns. However, it will also require changes in the management of the electricity sector.

This is because this year, Brazil faced its most significant blackout since 2009, with 25 states experiencing power outages. Some experts in the electricity sector suspected this was related to the role of wind energy in that the increase in energy from intermittent sources might have reduced the reliability of the system. However, the government dismissed any such connection, stating that the source is not a problem but a solution.

“Today, the growth of energy sources that are considered to be intermittent, which can vary depending on the wind and sun, is a challenge for the sector. Therefore, a more robust backup system is needed, achieved through investments in transmission line reinforcement and software improvements to enhance the response time of other energy sources,” explained Mikio Kawai Jr, Director of Safira Consulting.

In recent months, the Brazilian government announced an investment of approximately R$50 billion (US$10 billion) to implement the largest electric power transmission program in the north east of Brazil. This involves constructing additional transmission lines to accommodate the generation of solar and wind energy in the country.

“There will be reinforcement in the transmission lines. Without it, we would have to limit the production of wind and solar energy. But we will invest R$60 billion in transmission lines to ensure safety and continued investments,” assured the Brazilian Minister of Energy, Alexandre Silveira.

Sun as a protagonist

Although solar energy generation is relatively new in Brazil, it has been gaining momentum since the mid-2010s and has been setting generation records year after year.

In 2022, Brazil ended the year with over 34 GW of installed solar power. According to the Brazilian Solar Photovoltaic Energy Association (Absolar), the country is expected to add 10 gigawatts to its energy matrix by the end of this year, marking a 42.4% increase compared to 2022.

There are already approximately 1.6 million solar energy generation points in Brazil, with over 79% located in residential properties and an additional 11% in commercial establishments. From an environmental perspective, the use of solar energy has prevented the release of more than 34.5 million tons of CO2, according to Absolar data.

“The primary reason why consumers are turning to this technology is the cost savings on their electricity bills. A photovoltaic system can enable consumers to reduce their monthly electricity expenses by up to 90%, sometimes even more,” explained Rodrigo Sauaia, Executive President of Absolar.

Fig.2. Evolution of the solar photovoltaic energy in Brazil

Source: Absolar

An example that highlights how the sun has taken center stage in Brazil can be found along the famous Copacabana Beach, located in Rio de Janeiro where, of 309 kiosks, 50 have recently adopted a new solar energy system.

Photo Credit: Orla Rio

These entrepreneurs are participating in the Solis project, a partnership between Orla Rio, responsible for the operation and maintenance of the kiosks, and Nextron, a startup created to democratize access to sustainable energy.

When we think of solar energy, we often envisage large solar panels typically seen on the rooftops of buildings. Along the Rio de Janeiro coastline, the process has developed in a simpler manner. A solar farm located outside the city captures the energy, and the company subsequently delivers solar energy to the kiosk owners through software. This allows them to join the program through a mobile app.

“These establishments lack available roof space for solar panels, and they also don’t have the capital to invest in a solar power plant. Through this partnership, we can provide solar energy through a subscription model, helping them save without the need for infrastructure investments,” explained Ivo Pitanguy, the founder of Nextron.

It is expected that, following the adoption of solar energy by the 309 kiosks, 6 million tons of CO2 emissions will be avoided every month. This is equivalent to saving 3.5 million trees and preventing the consumption of 2.7 million liters of fuel, according to Nextron’s calculations.