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Brazil braced for the winds of change


With its abundant dams and rivers that carry more fresh water than any other country, Brazil – essentially runs on hydropower. But it turns out that the country can also count on a very strong breeze. Wind is emerging as a prize for energy planners here who see the howling gusts that arrive from the east as a way to offset the fresh limits imposed on hydropower. PES investigates…

A string of wind-turbine parks is being erected in Brazil’s windiest stretches, in what planners see as the beginning of an extraordinary transformation. No one expects that wind will outpace dams as the main source of electricity here. But the goals remain audacious for a country that projects an annual increase in electricity consumption of up to five per cent in coming years.

To keep pace with that growth, Brazil’s capacity to produce energy must increase by 50 percent over the next decade, government planners say – in line with a target set by rapidly growing China, and even faster than what is projected for Russia and India, two similarly sized, energy-hungry emerging economies.

In Brazil, wind will play a vital role: The aim by 2021 is to have Brazil rely on wind turbines for up to 10 percent of its generating capacity – nearly enough to power São Paulo, South America’s largest city.

It’s an expansion that planners believe makes perfect sense, allowing Brazil to avoid an energy crisis like the one in 2001 – when drought led to nationwide blackouts – while diversifying with a new source of power that is far cheaper and more efficient than it was just five years ago.

“Wind is the perfect complement for the hydro base that we have in Brazil,” said Mathias Becker, president of Renova Energia, a São Paulo wind energy company founded 12 years ago with $5,000 and now worth nearly $1.5 billion. “When it rains, we don’t have wind. When the wind blows, there is no rain.”

Brazil’s big push on wind is not trouble-free. Transmission lines, devilishly difficult to build, have not kept up with wind-park construction. Brazil’s economy is barely expanding, and onerous government regulations slow investment.

 

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