Brazil is a country blessed by nature. Famous for its beaches, renowned for its beauties, the emerging global economic leader is also blessed by huge energy reserves, ranging from deep sea oil to huge rivers that drive hydroelectric production and some of the best wind resources in the world.
Countries have built wind energy as a complement to their existing power infrastructure, but in few places does the natural setting make wind so much “the perfect partner” for hydroelectric power as Brazil, the Global Wind Energy Council said in a report on regulatory frameworks for the country’s emerging wind industry. That is nature at work, with the wind cycle complementing Brazil’s rainy season by blowing strongest during the dry season.
Brazil’s government energy research group EPE says the country hit 1,436 MW of wind power at the end of 2011, an amount it forecasts will more than double to total 3,241 MW in 2012 as government incentives filter through to turbine production and installation. That makes up only a tiny proportion of the country’s total 112,455 MW of power production, but also means it is one of the country’s fastest-growing generation types; by 2019 the GWEC says Brazil will have 6,041 MW of installed wind capacity. That accounts for one third of the average annual increase in power generation over the decade.
Much as infrastructure and fossil fuels dictate the rules of the road for energy markets in the rest of the world, hydroelectric dependency dictates the prospects for wind energy in Brazil. In 2010 83,169 MW of hydroelectric dominated the country’s generation mix, with the addition of huge new dams like the controversial Tele Pires project, hydroelectric will continue to dominate at the end of this decade, with EPE forecasting 116,699 MW of installed capacity in 2019.
“Hydro and wind are perfect partners in Brazil,” GWEC’s report says. “Not only are the country’s windiest areas located conveniently close to demand centers, but in addition, the variable nature of wind power is best accommodated in a highly flexible system such as one dominated by hydropower.”
Dry winters in Brazil have already sparked concerns about security of energy supply there, and wind power can be expected to provide backup power supply without exposing the market to volatile fossil fuel markets.
“Brazil faces a challenge in dealing with its fossil fuel blessings,” CEO of Brazilian energy firm Energisa Ricardo Botelho told Breaking Energy earlier this year. “Brazil has to present a plan that includes delivering energy in a sustainable way,” he said, adding that the timing of wind resources was particularly complementary to hydro resources.
Despite a lack of clarity around tendering for new power capacity and the legal frameworks, as well as the long-term government support for wind energy based in part on preference for domestic manufacturing, international firms are taking an increased stake in Brazilian wind. The leaders in installed wind capacity in Brazil in 2010 were Enercon, Suzlon, Vestas and Impsa, GWEC said.
Vestas is growing its decade-old position, with Brazil as an important centerpiece to broader involvement across Latin America, which Vestas said could have a 93,300 MW wind energy market by 2030. Leveraging a new production facility and operations center in Fortaleza in Northeastern Brazil and doubling its employee base, Vestas says it has ambitious expansion plan in the region.
While government policies are key to successful expansion of the wind market in Brazil, broader consumer support underlines what Botelho called a “mainstreaming” of environmental concerns in the country over the past 20 years. Roughly half of Brazilian consumers would favor a wind turbine near their house, mirroring a similar proportion that rated wind energy as having the highest possible reputation, according to the Global Consumer Wind Study, conducted in partnership with Vestas. Meanwhile, roughly two-thirds of surveyed Brazilians told the GCWS that they see renewable energy as a good solution to climate change, a top concern for the country’s consumers.
In charting its course to an energy future that balances economic development with widespread concerns about climate change and fossil fuels use, Brazil is taking a different approach from the US and focusing on the appeal of local solutions designed to work with local conditions. “We don’t want to follow the US,” Energisa’s Botelho said, and as the supply chain expands and demand for a reliable partner for hydroelectric power remains robust, Brazil is set to continue following its own path for growing wind energy in the coming decade.
This piece appears on Breaking Energy as part of the Energy Transparency series in partnership with Vestas.