Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

The Power of the Brazilian Wind

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

The Power of the Brazilian Wind

Article excerpt

BACK IN 1992, THE FIRST WIND TURBINE IN BRAzil was about to be installed. The chosen place was also one of the most beautiful places in the country (or even on earth). At that time, the archipelago of Fernando de Noronha had only diesel generators to power its electricity demand, due to the distance between the main island and the continent - 545 kilometers from Recife, the state capital of Pernambuco. The Brazilian electricity generation in that year relied about 92% on hydropower alone.

Almost a decade later, in 2001, a shortage of rain caused the water of the hydropower plant reservoirs to drop to very low levels. Brazil experienced an electricity crisis. As a result, the government recognized it needed to find a more flexible electricity generation model considering different primary sources of energy. Academic researchers had long recognized this fact, but it took a crisis to make the government see the importance of the possibilities they envisaged.

To cope with the problem, the use of other energy sources such as coal (3.4%), gas (3.2%), oil (4.9%), and nuclear (4.3%) increased, lowering the hydropower sources to 82%. Between 2000 and 2001, electricity use dropped almost 8% because of energy rationing. Nevertheless, in 2002 the demand started to grow again, as in any other developing country. Brazil needed new electricity generation capacity and was waiting for the first governmental action towards developing wind energy.

In 2004, the federal government began to encourage the use of other renewable sources such as wind, biomass and small hydroelectric plants (SHP) through the Program of Incentives for Alternative Electricity Sources (PRO INFA). By coincidence, that was the year that I defended a Master's Degree at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) centered on Wind Power in Power Systems (and subsequently wrote one of the first theses on the subject in Brazil). Although PROINFA was not a very successful governmental program, it was certainly an important starting point to begin the new development of wind power in Brazil.

The first governmental auction that included wind power took place in 2009, just after my Ph.D. thesis defense at the University of São Paulo (USP). During the two previous years I spent at a research institute at RWTH Aachen University in Germany, I learned how far behind Brazilian wind power was: the discussions in Germany were about massive constructions of offshore wind farms located at the North and Baltic seas and many manufacturers competed to sell wind turbines in the market.

A few years later, a government agency (the Growth Acceleration ProgramPAC) began to focus on the implementation of a wind industry in Brazil, offering incentives to launch new enterprises and produce domestic equipment. Due to high competition in bids for energy production, prices of wind energy have been gradually reduced, positively contributing to the diversification of energy sources. Almost 300 megawatts of wind power capacity were offered at the lowest price ever at a 2012 auction. The Brazilian federal government contracted all the energy that will be produced by those wind farms for a 20 years period. The megawatt per hour (MWh) of wind energy was purchased for less than US$48 (converted from Brazilian currency on 12/14/2012).

These wind-power projects started during a period of major technological evolution of wind turbines, which improved performance through better aerodynamics of the blades, advanced mechanical transmission speed systems (gearbox) and new control and operation strategies for turbines. As a result, wind power has become a very competitive source, generating energy at the same price or lower than hydropower plants. In the first semester of 2015, the use of wind power compared to hydropower was 4.2% and 62%, respectively. The production of wind power energy does not reach its maximum capacity on a constant basis because the wind does not blow all the time-it fluctuates according to the wind patterns. …

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