Brazil is a country with a really sunny and pleasant weather, plentiful fresh water, beautiful beaches and warm, friendly and diverse people. Through this description, when we think about electricity production, we picture a plentiful amount of electricity generation and availability in the country, produced by solar panels, wind turbines and small hydropower plants.
However, this is not the right picture from the status of Brazilian electricity production. Even though the country is one of the top 5 countries with highest amount of energy being produced by renewables, most of the country’s electricity is produced by hydropower, presenting the other non-hydro renewable sources, such as biomass, wind and solar, a much smaller share in the country’s electricity generation mix. From all the electricity being produced in the country, 68% comes from hydropower plants, 8% from biomass, 5% from wind and 0.01% from solar1. Consequently, Brazil faces a few challenges regarding its electricity production and security.
We have listed the top 5 challenges in electricity production and security faced by Brazil so that we can brainstorm possible solutions and promote initiatives that can help solving those challenges.
#1 Brazilian electricity generation mix is highly dependent on a changing hydrological cycle
Due to its fresh water availability, 68% of the electricity supply in the country is provided by hydropower plants1. However, in the last few years, the country has faced serious droughts, that caused electricity shortages and blackouts. The droughts were due to modifications in the hydrological cycle caused by natural climate variability and climate change, which diminished the average water levels in hydro dam reservoirs. As a result, the highly dependence on hydropower endangers the country’s electricity security and supply, especially in the Southeast region that is the most populated and energy demanding region.
#2 Electricity prices for the consumers are extremely volatile and high
Another consequence of the high dependence of the power sector on hydropower generation is the increase in electricity prices for the consumer. The low average water levels in hydro dam reservoirs makes it necessary to increase the supply of thermal energy in order to meet the country’s electricity demand in dry seasons. This source of electricity is not only bad for the environment, generating greenhouse gases emissions that were previously avoided, but also is way more expensive than hydroelectricity. Therefore, electricity prices in Brazil have been quite high in the last 4 years and people are always dependent on rainy summers to pay a fair electricity price.
#3 The majority of the population has no money to install renewable energy technology and become more independent from the grid
Due to high levels of inequalities, most of the population in Brazil struggles for having their basic needs fulfilled. Thus, you can imagine that installing a solar panel, for example, in their rooftops is not part of the reality of most of the Brazilians if no subsidy or microcredit is available. Consequently, the majority of population keeps depending on the grid that cannot guarantee energy security in dry years and become hostages of high and volatile electricity prices.
#4 Middle and high classes are mostly not aware that it is already affordable to produce their own electricity and become independent from the grid
Despite the vast majority of population in Brazil has no conditions for installing a solar panel/wind turbine on their rooftops/land, most of the people from middle and high classes that could afford installing them are not aware that this is not only already affordable but also is a business opportunity. As a result, the number of households that have been producing electricity independently or that are buying their shares in renewable energy parks/cooperatives is growing in a much slower pace than in other regions in Europe, for example.
#5 A few communities in remote rural areas of the country are still lacking electricity
Even though the government program “Luz para todos” (light for all) increased the access to electricity in Brazil and the country nowadays presents more than 99% of electrification rate2, a few communities in remote rural areas still lack electricity in their households. Due to the high transmission costs, the national electricity grids do not reach a few remote rural areas with low population density and many people in these places are still relying on querosene or diesel for electricity generation, endangering their health and having poor life conditions.
In addition, even in the cases in which remote communities were given access to electricity, their isolated geographical localization made constant technology maintenance a challenge, what compromised the sustainability of the initiative. Therefore, these type of programs and initiatives still lack management mechanisms and capacity-building programs for local inhabitants for guaranteeing the universal access to electricity 3.
1BEN, 2017. Brazilian Energy Balance. Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (EPE) <https://ben.epe.gov.br/downloads/Relatorio_Final_BEN_2017.pdf>
2World Bank, 2018 < https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EG.ELC.ACCS.ZS>
3MORANTE, Federico; ZILLES, Roberto ; MOCELIN, André . Transferencia tecnológica en comunidades amazónicas: algunos aprendizajes obtenidos a partir de proyectos utilizando la tecnología solar fotovoltaica. Avances en Energías Renovables y Medio Ambiente, v. 11, p. 12.25-12.32, 2007.