SÃO PAULO – Brazil’s northeast region is set to receive a major boost to its growing wind energy sector from private and public funds, the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Around R$43 billion (US$19.3bn) will be invested in Brazil’s wind energy industry between now and 2017, funded by the country’s National Development Bank (BNDES).
It was also reported that state-run hydroelectric company Chesf, a subsidiary of public energy giant Eletrobras, will also plow some R$3.1 billion (US$1.35bn) into four northeast region states, including Rio Grande do Norte – the area’s biggest wind energy producer.
Both coastal and inland areas are set to benefit from the expansion in the renewable energy, with a raft of new jobs promised.
Over 70% of Brazil’s wind power comes from the northeast region, which is among Brazil’s poorest.
“This industry brings jobs to the region, land leases drive up the local population’s income, and the local governments reap more from service taxes,” Élbia Melo, chief executive of the Brazilian Association for Wind Energy, told Folha.
According to the association, the investment will allow construction of wind farms to boost the northeast’s capacity from 2.24GW (gigawatts) to over 10.6GW by 2018.
The association is quoted as saying that this amount would be enough to satisfy energy demands for around 54 million people – over a quarter of the country’s 200-million-strong population.
Taking the heat off hydroelectric?
Government figures show that wind power has expanded rapidly over the last year, as new installations come online: in March 2013, Brazil was producing 2.03GW of wind power, but by March 2014 this had increased by 36% to 2.76GW.
Brazil added 18 new installations this month – 12 in Rio Grande do Norte and six in neighbouring Ceará state. Both states have recently broken through the 1GW production barrier.
According to the GWEC, Brazil now has 179 wind farms – but many are not yet operational or grid-connected. If all were functioning and connected, Brazil would be nearly 4.5GW of power.
Industry figures believes wind power has a bright future in a country where at least 80% of electricity is generated through another renewable source: hydroelectric.
However, the dams required have proved extremely costly to build – financially, politically and environmentally, given most options involve Amazon tributaries and are located in highly biodiverse and ecologically-sensitive areas.
Auction rules mean that production of the plants has to be done locally, so this phase is also beneficial to the domestic economy and to boost the burgeoning Brazilian wind turbine industry.
A number of international companies, including Spain’s Acciona, have been contracted to build the wind farms.
Solar set to be the ‘new wind’
Although Brazil’s hydroelectric-heavy energy mix means the country is one of the world’s greenest major economies, it can be unstable when droughts set in. The government has looked at ways to diversify its energy sources.
However, wind is not yet in a position to take up the slack on a countrywide level, as the majority of Brazil’s wind farms – located in the northeast – have yet to be hooked up to the national grid.
Brazil’s Energy Research Company (EPE) says that were those transmission lines in place to the region, the country could make vast savings on times when the country faces droughts and, therefore, shortages of hydroelectricity supplies. These energy gaps are currently typically plugged by turning to coal.
Industry experts say wind power capacity in Brazil should grow by around 2GW a year, to over 20GW by 2020.
In 2013, only 12 other countries produced more wind-generated electricity, and Brazil is likely to jump up this ranking by the end of 2014.
The Latin American economic powerhouse is now also also looking to build up its solar energy industry, in the same way wind power has begun to take off.
Although four-fifths of Brazil’s energy comes from hydroelectric, the country imports a small proportion of its electricity needs, as well as using biomass, coal, oil, gas and nuclear power stations.