Brazil not only represents the biggest electricity market in Latin America, but it’s also leading the pack when it comes to renewables and green energy solutions. Currently, more than 80% of the energy used to power Brazil’s national grid comes from renewable sources.
Historically, it’s been hydropower that’s driven the Brazilian energy sector. In 2021, hydropower will account for around 55.3% of Brazil’s electricity generation. While the country has a robust hydropower infrastructure, including the largest water storage capacity on the planet, much of the region is sensitive to droughts.
During a typical dry season, dwindling water resources have a dramatic impact on hydropower potential. During 2021, hydropower output fell below 25% of assured energy production levels. Thankfully, Brazil has long been exploring other renewable energy avenues, with wind and solar power slowly becoming significant contributors to the national grid.
Solar Power: An Untapped Renewable Resource in Brazil
With the wider Latin American region, Brazil is in a prime position to reap the benefits of solar energy. The country receives some of the highest levels of solar irradiance in the world. Although levels of insolation vary between territories, Brazil typically receives between 4.25 and 6.5 hours of sunlight, every day.
Currently, renewables dominate the electricity generation market in Brazil. While hydropower accounts for more than half of all electricity generated in the country, renewables like wind and biomass are also key sources, providing 11% and 7.9% respectively.
In fact, the largest non-renewable source is natural gas, accounting for around 13.2% of electricity generation in 2021. Traditional fossil fuels like coal and petroleum accounted for 5.5% of Brazil’s overall energy demands. This puts Brazil in stark contrast to many other developing countries with a heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
A Booming 2021 Market in Brazil
As Brazil aims to move away from fossil fuels entirely, the renewable energy market is shaping up to become a key contributor to the overall economy. The lucrative solar energy potential of Brazil hasn’t gone unnoticed by local governments, or the wider global community. By the end of 2021, Brazil’s solar energy generation exceeded 16.7 terawatt hours. This is a significant increase of 55% compared to 2020. Nonetheless, solar power represented only 2.6% of Brazil’s electricity production in 2020.
Although solar power only accounts for a small percentage of Brazil’s overall energy production, considerable investment in renewable infrastructure is taking place. Since 2012, more than 10 billion US dollars have been invested in solar energy infrastructure. Furthermore, the Brazilian government has been hard at work to attract foreign investors to contribute to the country’s burgeoning renewable energy sector.
Big hitters within the solar energy sector are now hard at work within Brazil. International companies including Trina Solar have experienced rapid growth in the past few years. Meanwhile, energy firms like Shell have been refocusing their operations away from traditional fossil fuels to embrace renewables like solar.
All this investment has paid off. By the end of 2017, the total installed capacity of photovoltaic solar in Brazil was 1.1 GW, with much of this reserved for the state of Minas Gerais. By the end of 2021, installed PV capacity stood at 14, with the market far less fragmented than before.
Furthermore, expanding infrastructure and continued investment have breathed new life into the renewable energy employment sector. In 2020, the renewable energy industry as a whole generated more than 1.2 million jobs throughout Brazil. In 2021, solar PV was expected to generate an additional 147,000 jobs across the country.
Interest in Brazilian Solar Energy and Renewables Soars in 2021
Although the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a slowdown in market movement, the solar energy sector has gone from strength to strength. According to the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL), demand for solar energy in the third quarter of 2020 was 25% higher than in the same period in 2019. Over the next decade, it’s estimated that solar energy will grow by around 13% every year.
Although Brazil is one of the leading adopters of solar PV technology, wide-scale expansion has been hindered by several factors. While Brazil’s solar energy potential is significant, not all corners of the country receive comparable levels of sunshine. For example, Brazil’s southern regions receive almost two hours less sunshine a day than areas within the northeast of the country. The majority of installed solar energy capacity is limited to populous regions like Minas Gerais and São Paulo. However, expansion into energy-impoverished territories like the state of Amazonas has been fraught with difficulties.
Nonetheless, distributed solar energy generation remains a key pillar of Brazil’s Ten Year Expansion Plan for Energy. By 2031, distributed generation is expected to grow by 363%. Compared to other energy sources, solar power remains a practical and affordable option for isolated communities. As well as mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, solar power projects reduce wider environmental impacts like the need for deforestation. Furthermore, many solar power projects can be bolstered by complementary technologies, such as biomass energy generation.
Active Solar Energy Projects in Brazil by 2021
Over the next few years, around 38 active solar energy projects will be underway in Brazil. These projects carry a combined value of more than 8 billion US dollars. As in 2021 and previous years, considerable revenues will be invested in the Minas Gerais region. However, other states including Ceará and Bahia will enjoy increased investment going forward.
In Mas Gerais, no less than 11 projects are planned for the next few years, with a combined investment of 3 billion US dollars bolstering projects. The most expensive of these initiatives is the AC Solar Power Project. This project will involve the construction of 17 individual PV power plants in the state of Minas Gerais. Combined, these plants will offer a capacity of 680 MW.
Elsewhere in Ceará, Elera Renováveis is spearheading the Alex PV Project. One of several solar power projects in the state, the Alex PV Project commenced work in late 2021 and aims to bring 9 PV power plants online, offering a combined capacity of more than 245 MW.
Biggest Brazilian Solar Power Stations 2021
In 2021, Brazil ranked 14th globally in terms of cumulative solar PV capacity. However, it comfortably broke the top 10 in terms of added solar PV capacity, securing fourth place with 5,176 MW. Although the state of Mas Gerais has benefited from the highest concentration of solar power projects, it’s by no means the only corner of the country to enjoy significant investment. In fact, some of the largest solar power stations and PV farms can be found elsewhere in Brazil.
This is by far the largest solar plant in Brazil. It sits in the Ribeira do Piauí region of Brazil, a northeastern territory that receives significant levels of sunlight. This sprawling solar plant boasts a peak capacity of 292 MW. What’s more, it can comfortably produce annual yields of 600 GWh. What does this mean in real-world terms? Well for starters, it’s helping Brazil mitigate its carbon emissions. To produce the same yield of electricity as Nova Olinda, a conventional power station dependent on fossil fuels would produce upwards of 350,000 tons of greenhouse gas.
Lapa Solar Park
Situated in the state of Bahia, this massive solar power park is actually composed of two separate plants. The Lapa plant has an installed capacity of 78 MW, while the nearby Bom Jesus da Lapa plant has an installed capacity of 80 MW. What makes the Lapa Solar Park so special? Despite a relatively modest price tag of 175 million US dollars, this solar power facility is one of the most energy-efficient on the planet. It benefits from being in a prime location for solar radiation exposure, with top-of-the-line converter units helping the site produce yields of up to 340 GWh annually. This energy output is enough to power more than 165,000 homes. If this electricity was to be produced by fossil fuels, around 200,000 tons of carbon emissions would be pumped into the atmosphere every year.
This solar facility is the result of Brazil welcoming foreign investment into the renewable energy sector. The Santander Group and Bank of China footed much of the 400 million US dollars required for construction. A combined total of 850,000 panels make up this sprawling solar panel facility. Annually, Ituverava produces around 550 GWh of clean energy. This electricity output is enough to meet the everyday demands of more than 265,000 Brazilian households. Furthermore, this clean energy initiative is helping prevent around 320,000 tons of greenhouse gases from finding their way into the atmosphere.
Other Brazilian solar power stations
Some of the biggest Brazilian solar power stations also include:
- Nova Aurora Solar Park – Located in the state of Goiás, this solar park has a total installed capacity of 506 MWp and is considered one of the largest in Latin America.
- Campo Largo Solar Park – Also located in the state of Goiás, this solar park has a total installed capacity of 400 MWp.
- Pecém Solar Power Plant – located in Ceará state, with a total installed capacity of 300 MWp
- Santa Cruz Solar Park – located in Bahia state, with a total installed capacity of 245 MWp
- Botelhos Solar Power Plant – located in Minas Gerais state, with a total installed capacity of 238 MWp
- Ituverava Solar Park – Located in Bahia state, with a total installed capacity of 215 MWp
- Nova Olinda Solar Park – Located in Ceará state, with a total installed capacity of 215 MWp
- Caiuá Solar Power Plant – located in São Paulo state, with a total installed capacity of 205 MWp
These are just a few examples, as there are several more large-scale solar power stations in Brazil, and the capacity and size of these projects are subject to change and development.
What’s Next for Solar Power in Brazil?
The PV capacity of Latin America increased by a staggering 44% in 2021, with Brazilian initiatives being the key driving force behind this expansion. By 2026, it’s anticipated that Brazil will take its place as one of the big five global solar markets in the world, boasting a solar capacity of 54 GW.
These forecasts might seem overly optimistic, but when you consider the great strides Brazil has made in embracing renewable energy sources. Although the country has long prioritized hydropower and, to a lesser extent wind power, solar energy, and PV plants are now getting the investment they deserve. In 2022, Brazil boasts 15 GW of installed solar capacity, with 5 GW being brought online in 2021 alone. While 2021 was a record-breaking year for solar panel innovation, don’t be surprised to see growth forecasts exceeded in 2022.
The Future’s Bright for Brazilian Solar Projects
By 2026, many industry experts anticipate that Brazil will become a global solar market. The Brazilian government has already made a long-term commitment to the abandonment of fossil fuels. Per its most recent plan, Plano Decenal de Expansão de Energia (PDEE), Brazil aims to boost its renewable energy output by 28%. Most importantly, this plan outlines that hydropower won’t count toward renewable energy requirements needed to meet the country’s rising electricity needs.
Are Brazil on the right track to meet these targets? All signs point to yes. According to statistics from the Operator of the National Electricity System (ONS), there are more than 3,890 active solar power plants in Brazil. Meanwhile, a further 13 large-scale plants are currently under construction. By 2024, Brazil aims to have 1.2 million solar power systems online. However, these forecasts as conservative estimates. As solar energy costs decrease and regulation becomes relaxed, it’s almost certain that Brazil will up its commitment to solar energy infrastructure projects.
This article was written by Martin Desmond of Wizer, a company that installs solar panels in Ireland. Martin and his team provide comprehensive domestic and commercial PV systems and Zappi Charger installation services nationwide.
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