Winds of change are knocking, could Brazil be the next powerhouse?

I was in Latin America last week and was, once again, amazed at the abundance of Nature’s gifts in the region. Brazil is blessed with perhaps the greatest share of renewable energy sources compared to anywhere in the world. With the weighing scales tipping so far over, isn’t it only fair to expect them to deliver far more than just the norm?

The norm, is aiming to achieve a functional energy equation – of a realization that the traditional sources are fast depleting and an attempt to replace them.  But Brazil has the capabilities to look beyond; to accommodate ‘green’ energy not only as means to energy security, but to energy lead. An energy lead, which they can establish in the world market by simply making most of the natural resources available on their home land – resources which are green and abundant. I believe that not only can renewables substantially contribute to Brazil’s energy matrix, but by the year 2020, wind alone can meet 20 per cent of all its electricity needs.

Brazil has a very successful ‘green record’ – 47.3 per cent of Brazil's energy comes from renewable sources and 76.9 per cent (Brazilian Energy Balance 2010 | year 2009, by EPE) of total electricity generation is on account of hydro alone. This is a most remarkable achievement, especially when compared to the contribution of renewable to energy production in other OECD countries. Though this accomplishment is just the tip of the iceberg – wind alone has the capacity of over 300 gigawatt (GW) in Brazil, over three times its current energy generating capacity!

The apparent abundance should not be taken lightly as these are the very resources which could help Brazil combat its biggest challenge. The challenge of powering growth through renewable energy along with continued efforts of providing an equitable distribution of wealth. The access to reliable electrical power for Brazilians living in remote regions has continually increased over the last few years, but there is still a lot to be done. Demand for electricity is set to rise by more than 60 per cent by 2020 and triple by 2050; this growth necessitates production of energy which is both accessible and affordable.

Currently, Brazil represents a strong hydro-based matrix which asks to be diversified; it is a country with great natural wealth and is presently exploring only a fraction of that potential. Not to mention the complementarity of hydro and wind power in Brazil. During the year, when the rate of flow of the rivers is the lowest, the wind speed is at its highest. In other words, wind is the perfect complement for hydro and nature has provided for it.

Wind energy is not just an alternative source during the annual periods of low hydro production; it saves the rivers and their surrounding ecosystems, assures no damage to the environment and provides for competitive pricing.  Compared to other renewable sources, wind has a minimal gestation period, completely freezes power costs in the long term and installation of each megawatt (MW) assures two green jobs.

Brazil is well on its way to realizing all of these benefits; the unique wind auctions have proved to be widely successful. The process will create a market for an additional 3 GW of capacity by September 2013. This is a most commendable start, but a one that only makes it evident that a lot more can be achieved; if fully leveraged wind can satisfy 876 terawatt hours (TWh) of Brazil’s electricity requirements!  A clearly focused target with complete governmental support is crucial at this juncture. The wind industry in Brazil has had a flying start; they now just need to maintain the momentum.

The target of 20 per cent of base-load electricity demand from wind by 2020 and 50 per cent by 2050 is possible and much desirable. Achieving this target would mean creating 800,000 jobs as well as saving 95 million tons of CO2 annually; turning Brazil into the true powerhouse of Latin America.

The winds of change are knocking; Brazil has the opportunity to turn them to their benefit and create a tomorrow which is healthy and full of promise, for generations to come.