In the Bioenergy Systems Organization at GE Global Research – Rio de Janeiro (GRC-R), we research both new technologies and new applications for existing ones, whenever those have a potential fit to customer’s demands. We have a special eye on the South American market. Brazil plays an important role in the region’s economy. The country has an energy market that is quite different from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and other developing economies. Unique boundary conditions drive solutions tailored to suit local needs. I’d like to share with you how Brazilian electricity production distributes among various energy sources. I also intend mentioning expansion plans for power generation infrastructure in the region, as these impact key technologies and solutions being developed by GRC-R.
The Brazilian government, through its Ministry of Mines and Energy, Energy Research Office, maintains a Ten-Year Energy Expansion Plan. This is annually updated, always looking a decade ahead. It takes into account trends in local and global economies, projections for industrial activity, fuel availability, energy security and a number of other relevant variables that influence future electricity market. The expansion of power generation capacity is planned to fit projected electricity demand in ways that take advantage of existing resources while respecting environmental constraints. In early September 2014, the draft for the 2014-2023 period report was released. Key data shows 1) how installed power generation capacity distributes among the various energy sources; 2) the predicted picture for late 2023, and; 3) the expected average rate of power generation capacity increase.
Installed capacity in Brazil today equals 125 GW. This is expected to grow to about 200 GW by late 2023. On average, 7.1 GW of new electrical power generating capacity is expected to be put in place annually over the next decade. Currently 83% of the Brazilian power generation is based on renewables. Predictions indicate that this level will be maintained in the future. This contrasts, for example, with the European Union, which is working very hard to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
Renewable power generation – Hydro, wind and solar
Hydropower accounts for about 75% of existing power generation capacity in Brazil, and is expected to grow at a rate of 3.3 GW/year over the next ten years. The new hydro capacity the country will put in place from now until the end of 2023 approximately equals the installed power of Hydro-Québec. Large plants will come into operation in the north of Brazil. Special attention is being given to the Belo Monte hydropower plant which, when fully operational, will have 11 GW installed capacity – nearly six times the power of the Hoover Dam´s station. Belo Monte is expected to start operating by 2016. A number of other smaller hydro power plants, of installed capacity varying from 50 to 8, 000 MW, also are scheduled to enter service before 2023.
According to Brazilian legislation, a hydro of less than 50 MW can be classified as a small renewable power plant and, because of that, may be eligible for incentives to connect to the grid. This is also the case for wind and solar. During the past few years the competitiveness between small hydro and wind was reduced for several reasons, including increased complexities for obtaining environmental permits. While containing water streams has benefits of regulating flow and preventing floods, it may also have negative impacts on wildlife such as creating difficulties for fish migration. Wind has a small contribution today but its share is expected to grow significantly over the next decade (2 GW/year). Projections show that centralized solar power generation will also appear in the mix. Thanks to the large energy accumulation capacity of the existing hydro infrastructure, issues of grid disturbances because of wind and solar power oscillations are not expected. Solutions that pursue damping wind and solar power oscillations, like pumped storage, appear to have little eco in the region.
Converting electricity from sugarcane biomass
Biomass, especially sugarcane bagasse, is used as fuel for thermal power generation. This energy source is highly seasonal as it is coupled to sugarcane harvest and sugar and ethanol production. Nonetheless, during those periods, input power to the grid is fairly uniform. The expected organic growth of biomass-based electrical power generating capacity, 410 MW/year, is tightly linked to projected sugar and ethanol demands.