Renewable energy in Brazil

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Renewable energy in Brazil accounted for more than 85.4% of the domestically produced electricity used in Brazil, according to data from the 2009 National Energy Balance, conducted by the Energy Research Corporation (EPE).[1] After the oil shocks of the 1970s, Brazil started focusing on developing alternative sources of energy, mainly sugarcane ethanol. Its large sugarcane farms helped. In 1985, 91% of cars produced that year ran on sugarcane ethanol. The success of flexible-fuel vehicles, introduced in 2003, together with the mandatory E25 blend throughout the country, have allowed ethanol fuel consumption in the country to achieve a 50% market share of the gasoline-powered fleet by February 2008.[2][3]

Brazil held its first wind-only energy auction in 2009, in a move to diversify its energy portfolio. Foreign companies scrambled to take part. In January 2015, a drought in Brazil that cut water to the country's hydroelectric dams prompted severe energy shortages. The crisis, which ravaged the country's economy and led to electricity rationing, underscored Brazil's pressing need to diversify away from water power. The bidding is expected to lead to the construction of two gigawatts of wind production with an investment of about US$6 billion of over the next two years. Brazil counts on hydroelectricity for more than 3/4 of its electricity, but authorities are pushing biomass and wind as primary alternatives. Wind energy's greatest potential in Brazil is during the dry season, so it is considered a hedge against low rainfall and the geographical spread of existing hydro resources. Brazil's technical potential for wind energy is 143 gigawatts due to the country's blustery 7,400-km coastline, where most projects are based. The Brazilian Wind Energy Association and the government have set a goal of achieving 20 gigawatts of wind energy capacity by 2020 from the current 5 gigawatts (2014).[4] The industry hopes the auction will help kick-start the wind-energy sector, which already accounts for 70% of the total in all of Latin America.[5]


Hydroelectric power plants produce almost 80% of the electrical energy consumed in Brazil.[6] Brazil has the third highest potential for hydroelectricity, following Russia and China.[7]

Lack of rainfall, investments and increased consumption resulted in electrical energy rationalization, known as black out, in the years 2001 and 2002. The construction of new hydroelectric power plants means environmental impacts as large areas need to be flooded, altering the ecosystem. 'The construction of hydro plants – and therefore the construction of dams and lakes – causes various negative social and environmental impacts and damages.'[8]

Itaipu power plant[edit]

Main article: Itaipu Dam
View of Itaipu hydroelectric power plant in the State of Paraná.
A small hydroelectric power plant in Wenceslau Braz, Minas Gerais.

Built on the Paraná River dividing Brazil and Paraguay, the Itaipu Dam is the world's second largest hydroelectric power station. The river runs long the border of the two countries, and during the initial diplomatic talks of constructing the dam both countries were suffering from droughts. The original goal was to provide better management and utilization over water resources for the use of irrigation of crops. Argentina was also later incorporated in some of the governmental planning and agreements because it is a directly affected, being down stream, by the regulation of the water on the river. If the dam were to completely open the water flow, areas as far south as Buenos Aires could potentially flood. Construction of the dam started in 1975, and the first generator was opened in 1983. Today, the dam provides over 75% of Paraguay's electric power needs, and meets nearly 25% of Brazil's electricity demands. It is estimated that 10,000 locals were displaced by the construction of the dam, and around 40,000 people were hired to help with the construction of the project. Many environmental concerns were overlooked when constructing the dam because the dam would produce such a large amount of energy with carbon free emissions, and no unwanted byproducts, such as with nuclear energy.

Wind power[edit]

Windfarm in Osório, Rio Grande do Sul.

Wind power in Brazil amounts to an installed capacity of more than 8 GW as of 2015. Potential of wind in Brazil is more intense from June to December, coinciding with the months of lower rainfall intensity. This puts the wind as a potential supplementary source of energy generated by hydroelectric.[9] In 2009, 10 projects are under construction, with a capacity of 256 MW, and in 2010, 45 began construction to generate 2,139 MW, in several States. The U.S. company General Electric has one industry in Brazil, in the city of Campinas, and one partnership with the Tecsis in Sorocaba, meeting the demand of the new projects.[10]

Installed wind power. Source GWEC Global Wind Report 2015
Year Cumulative Capacity (in MW).

While the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) was taking place in Copenhagen, Brazil's National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL) held the country's first ever wind-only energy auction. On December 14, around 1,800 megawatts (MW) were contracted with energy from 71 wind power plants scheduled to be delivered beginning July 1, 2012. While focusing domestically on wind-energy generation, Brazil is part of a larger international movement toward wind power as a primary source of energy. In fact, wind power has seen the highest expansion rate of all available renewable energy sources, with an average growth of 27% per year since 1990, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).

Government support[edit]

Brazil's first wind-energy turbine was installed in Fernando de Noronha Archipelago in 1992. Ten years later the government created the Program for Incentive of Alternative Electric Energy Sources (Proinfa) to encourage the use of other renewable sources, such as wind power, biomass, and Small Hydroelectric Power Stations (PCHs). Such stations use hydropower, the flagship of Brazil's energy matrix, which comprises around three-quarters of Brazil's installed energy capacity.

High energy production costs, coupled with the advantages of wind power as a renewable, widely available energy source, have led several countries to establish regulatory incentives and direct financial investments to stimulate wind power generation.

Growth of wind energy[edit]

Since the inception of Proinfa, Brazil's wind energy production has escalated from 22 MW in 2003 to 602 MW in 2009, as part of 36 private projects. Another 10 projects are under construction, with a capacity of 256.4 MW, and 45 additional projects have been approved by ANEEL with an estimated potential of 2,139.7 MW.

Developing these wind power sources in Brazil is helping the country to meet its strategic objectives of enhancing energy security, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating jobs. The potential for this type of power generation in Brazil could reach up to 145,000 MW, according to the 2001 Brazilian Wind Power Potential Report by the Electric Energy Research Centre (Cepel).


The cost of energy production continues to pose a significant challenge to the growth of wind energy. The price per megawatt hour (MWh) established in Brazil's auction of wind power reserve supply is R$189, while the cap defined in bidding for power plants of the Madeira River Hydroelectricity Complex was R$91 (UHE Jirau) in 2008, and R$122 (UHE Santo Antonio) in 2007. These hydroelectricity prices were marked down by up to 35% in the 2008 and 2007 auctions; the energy supply was negotiated at R$71.4/MWh in the case of Jirau, and R$78.9/MWh for the Santo Antonio plant.[11]

Solar power[edit]

Main article: Solar power in Brazil

The total installed photovoltaic power capacity in Brazil is estimated to be between 12 and 15 MWp, of which 50% is for telecommunications systems and 50% for rural energy systems.[12] It is less than 0.01% of the energy in Brazil.

Brazil has one of the highest solar incidence in the world.[13]

Ethanol fuel[edit]

Further information: Flexible-fuel vehicle

Brazil's ethanol program started in 1975, when soaring oil prices put a chokehold on the economy. sugarcane was an obvious candidate, given Brazil's almost endless amount of arable land and favourable climate.[14]

Most cars on the road today in Brazil can run on blends of up to 25% ethanol, and motor vehicle manufacturers already produce vehicles designed to run on much higher ethanol blends. Most car makers in Brazil sell flexible-fuel cars, trucks, and minivans that can use gasoline and ethanol blends ranging from pure gasoline up to 100% ethanol (E100). In 2009, 90% of cars produced that year ran on sugarcane ethanol.

Brazil is the second largest producer of ethanol in the world and is the largest exporter of the fuel. In 2008, Brazil produced 454,000 bbl/d of ethanol, up from 365,000 in 2007. All gasoline in Brazil contains ethanol, with blending levels varying from 20-25%. Over half of all cars in the country are of the flex-fuel variety, meaning that they can run on 100 percent ethanol or an ethanol-gasoline mixture. According to ANP, Brazil also produced about 20,000 bbl/d of biodiesel in 2008, and the agency has enacted a three-percent blending requirement for domestic diesel sales.

The importance of ethanol in Brazil's domestic transportation fuels market will only increase in the future. According to Petrobrás, ethanol accounts for more than 50 percent of current light vehicle fuel demand, and the company expects this to increase to over 80% by 2020. Because ethanol production continues to grow faster than domestic demand, Brazil has sought to increase ethanol exports. According to industry sources, Brazil's ethanol exports reached 86,000 bbl/d in 2008, with 13,000 bbl/d going to the United States. Brazil is the largest ethanol exporter in the world, holding over 90% of the global export market.[15]


The Center of Management and Strategic Studies under the supervision of the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology has published a document titled: Energetic Hydrogen in Brazil: funding for competitive politics 2010–2025 (‘‘Hidrogenio energetico no Brasil: subsidios para polıticas de competitividade 2010–2025’’ in Portuguese), giving numbers of a hydrogen scenario in the country related to its research, technologies and funding [45]. The document reports Brazil as a leader in Latin America but yet with an investment in hydrogen technologies of only 3 to 5% of Japan, European Union, or the United States. National hydrogen production is about 920,000 t (10.2 billion cubic meters) per year with only 1% used as a direct fuel and the other 99% for refining, petrochemical, fertilizers and methanol.[16]


Sugarcane plantation in Avaré (State of São Paulo), cane remains used to production of biomass energy.
Eucalyptus in the State of Espírito Santo, remains of the tree are reused for biomass power generation.

Biomass is a clean energy source used in Brazil. It reduces environmental pollution as it uses organic garbage, agricultural remains, wood shaving or vegetal oil. Refuse cane, with its high energetic value, has been used to produce electricity.[17] More than 1 million people in the country works in the production of Biomass, and this energy represents 27% of Brazil's energetic matrix.[18]

The recent interest in converting biomass to electricity comes not only from its potential as a low-cost, indigenous supply of power, but for its potential environmental and developmental benefits. For example, biomass may be a globally important mitigation option to reduce the rate of CO2 buildup by sequestering carbon and by displacing fossil fuels. Renewably grown biomass contributes only a very small amount of carbon to the atmosphere. Locally, plantations can lessen soil erosion, provide a means to restore degraded lands, offset emissions and local impacts from fossil-fired power generation, and, perhaps, reduce demands on existing forests. In addition to the direct power and environmental benefits, biomass energy systems offer numerous other benefits, especially for developing countries, such as Brazil. Some of these benefits include the employment of underutilized labor and the production of co- and by-products, for example, fuelwood.

Nearly all of the experiences with biomass for power generation is based on the use of waste and residue fuels (primarily wood/wood wastes and agricultural residues). The production of electric power from plantation grown wood is an emerging technology with considerable promise. However, actual commercial use of plantation-grown fuels for power generation is limited to a few isolated experiences. Wood from plantations is not an inexpensive energy feedstock, and as long as worldwide prices of coal, oil and gas are relatively low, the establishment of plantations dedicated to supplying electric power or other higher forms of energy will occur only where financial subsidies or incentives exist or where other sources of energy are not available.

The biomass plantations are supplying energy on a commercial basis, such as in Brazil, the Philippines and Sweden, it can be shown that a combination of government policies and/or high conventional energy prices have stimulated the use of short-rotation plantations for energy. Brazil used tax incentives beginning in the mid-1960s to initiate a reforestation program to provide for industrial wood energy and wood product needs. As a consequence of the Brazilian Forestry Code with its favourable tax incentives, the planted forest area in Brazil increased from 470,000 ha to 6.5 million ha by 1993. With the discontinuation of the tax incentives in 1988, plantation establishment in Brazil has slowed although the commercial feasibility of using eucalyptus for energy and other products has been clearly demonstrated.[19]

See also[edit]