For all the talk of lessons learned and new global approaches to energy, local conditions can – and should – prevail when it comes to choices for energy infrastructure additions, one of Brazil’s leading energy executives recently told Breaking Energy.

Brazil has been a “hot” developing market for a number of years, undergoing an economic renaissance even as traditionally dominant US markets have stagnated and neighboring Argentina has marked itself out as a risky place for foreign energy investors. But the country cannot seek to recreate the “gold standard” reliability of US and European generators, Energisa CEO Ricardo Botelho told Breaking Energy at the DNV KEMA Utility of the Future Summit in DC recently.

“We don’t want to replicate the US,” Botelho said. Brazil has huge fossil fuel and renewable resources, but it also is facing challenges providing electricity to a spread-out population that despite recent economic growth remain firmly in the “emerging” camp with many poor communities qualifying for subsidies or cheap power even from private firms like Energisa.

Marrying Hydro With Distributed Generation

A well-designed project can take advantage of the country’s seeming challenges, however, Botelho said. A pattern of trade winds that alternate with heavy but predictable seasonal rain in parts of the country have made pairing wind and hydro electricity in those regions highly attractive, as intermittency is reduced and the renewable sources gain grid parity without subsidies.

Power prices are already comparatively high in Brazil, and while plans for enormous dams currently under construction in the Amazon jungle will help limit future power price increases in areas those hydroelectric projects serve, microgrids and distributed generation from renewables will be a key part of guaranteeing access for a generation of rural Brazilians often buying their first televisions and refrigerators and becoming more demanding customers as a result.

Retrofitting existing ethanol plants to incorporate biomass power generation could be one way of providing power to distributed rural customers, Botelho said, outlining several projects Energisa is currently working on. Retrofits along the extensive Brazilian ethanol production chain could allow for 14GW of additional power generation in the country, Botelho said.