How innovative technology is being used to harness Brazil’s plentiful renewable energy sources
Renewable energy is not something new to Brazilians. Most of the electric power used in the country comes from water-generated energy. Also, more than half of the country’s car fleet runs on sugarcane alcohol. However there is something new on the Brazilian renewable energy landscape: wind and solar power.
Not less than ten years ago, the importance of these energy sources to the country was negligible. But since the start of this decade wind power is booming and solar energy is starting to follow the same path.
“This is something that is happening all over the world. Brazil is a latecomer, but it is particularly rich when it comes to those resources and that helps a lot”, explains Adriano Pires, an energy consultant from the private Brazilian Centre for Infra-Structure.
Harnessing the Power of Wind Energy
Élbia Gannoum, president of Abeeólica, the Brazilian Wind Energy Association, agrees. “In 2012, Brazil was only the 15º country in the world in terms of installed capacity. But now we are already in the 9º position. Also, last year Brazil had the 5° largest investment in the industry.”
Brazilian wind energy plants have around 12 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity and there are another 6 GW plants being built. Together, they will represent roughly 10% of the country’s total energy installed capacity, which is around 170 GW today. If explored to their full potential, Brazilian strong and steady winds alone can reach up to 500 GW of capacity. “The market and capacity installed will continue to grow at least for the next 15 or 20 years and in 2022 wind power should be the second most important source of energy in Brazil, behind only hydropower”, says Élbia.
This potential has already created a dynamic internal market and is attracting heavy-weight international players. According to Abeeólica, there are already more than one thousand wind power companies operating in Brazil. That includes some power-houses like the local Tectis, one of the world’s main suppliers of blades for wind turbines. Italian Enel Group is one of the energy companies developing wind and solar projects in the northeast of Brazil – a region with some of best natural conditions for wind and solar energy in the world.
Through two local subsidiaries, the company is one of the leading players in both wind and solar energy. And it is building the largest solar plant in the country, the 292 megawatts Nova Olinda plant, in Piauí State, which should be inaugurated later this year. Enel also operates Brazil’s first hybrid plant, which combines solar and wind energy, in Pernambuco State. “That combination provides more stable generation throughout the day and makes more efficient use of grid connection facilities”, says Carlo Zorzoli, Enel’s Country Manager in Brazil.
If Brazil is a latecomer to wind energy, it is even more so to solar energy. Until 2012, solar energy was used to power only a few isolated private grids. However, since 2013, solar energy installed capacity has grown 100 times and this year Brazil should join the club of the countries with more than 1 GW installed.
“Brazil has finally woken up to the solar energy potential”, says Rodrigo Sauaia, president of ABSolar, Brazilian Association for Solar Energy.
Shedding Light on Innovation
He says that the solar energy installed capacity will grow by 1 GW per year until 2026. “And according to some long-term projections the solar energy has the potential to respond to 32% of Brazil’s total capacity by 2040, which would make it the leading source of energy in Brazil ahead of hydropower”.
The recent growth and potential market for both solar and wind energy is also fuelling innovation. Enel Group and the Portuguese EDP, for instance, both have programme to accelerate and develop partnerships with Brazilian start-ups. Through its Energy Start programme, Enel selected and developed partnerships with 11 Brazilian start-ups in 2015 and 2016. One of them is Green Ant, a tech company that created a digital tool that allows consumers to monitor their real-time energy consumption online.
Another example of innovation is Sunew, a company from Minas Gerais State, which developed a transparent, light-weight and flexible photovoltaic film which is an alternative to the traditional silicon panels.
“The photovoltaic film is basically a plastic film in which we print five layers of a circuit made from a carbon based semiconductor that transforms heat in energy”, explains Filipe Ivo Sunew’s general-manager for business development.
Weighing only 300 grams per square metre, the film is much lighter than the silicon-based panel. Besides that, it is flexible and transparent. “That allows it to be used in building windows, tops of cars and trucks and even clothes, if you wish”, says Filipe.
The project made Sunew one the three start-up finalists in the “Energy Transition Award” promoted by the German Energy Agency earlier this year.
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