Sao Paolo, Brazil -- There is an old joke that says Brazil is the country of the future – and always will be. But with rapid economic growth, the government claiming that some 40 million people have been lifted out of poverty in the past decade and the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on the horizon, it seems the joke is about to fall flat. Brazil's time has arrived and the country of sun, sea and samba is keen to showcase itself to the world as a positive example of how to exploit renewable energy sources as well as how to perform on the football pitch.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, up to 77 percent of the world's energy needs could potentially be supplied from renewable sources by 2050, despite the current figure being a much more modest 13 percent.
Many heads of government around the world wondering how they can play their part in such a dramatic transformation could be forgiven for looking enviously at Brazil, where the figure already stood at 44.8 percent in 2010 and is forecast to rise to 46.3 percent in 2020.
While this increase may seem small in percentage terms, it fails to take into account the huge growth that will be seen in the country's raw energy demands — and the fact that the next decade could see the foundations laid for renewable energy to quickly become even more dominant in the years that follow.
A Growing Demand for Energy
In the next decade demand for energy is expected to increase by around 60 percent in Brazil, fuelled by millions of people spending more on consumer goods for their homes and cars, economic growth continuing to outstrip that seen in developed nations and heavy spending to improve infrastructure ahead of the two greatest sporting shows on earth.
However, Brazil has also committed to reducing its CO2 emissions by between 36 percent and 39 percent by 2020, making it vital that the country concentrates on clean sources of energy.
Investment of around BRL190 billion (US$122.6 billion) is needed for Brazil to meet the challenge, according to a 10-year energy plan recently published by EPE, Brazil's Energy Research Company, which conducts research for the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Of this, around BRL100 billion ($63.8 billion) will go towards renewable projects not yet contracted, 55 percent on large hydropower and 45 percent on wind, biomass and small hydro.
In terms of electricity Brazil already meets 83 percent of its needs from renewable means, gaining recognition from the Washington-based Pew Environment Group as "one of the lowest carbon electricity matrices in the world."
At present electricity consumption per person per year stands at just 560 kWh in Brazil. This compares with some 1900 kWh in the U.K. and more than 4500 kWh in the U.S. But, faced with on-going development, the country now needs to increase the installed potential of the national grid from the 110 GW at the end of last year to 171 GW by the end of 2020.
The EPE report details some of the reasons why Brazil needs a rapid expansion of its ability to produce electricity.
The population of South America's biggest country is expected to rise from 191.5 million in 2010 to 205 million in 2020, while the number of new homes will also increase by around 15 million over the period to hit 75.5 million as more people live alone.
A consumer spending boom is expected to see the average number of televisions per home rise from 1.37 to 1.71, the proportion of homes with washing machines increase from 64 to 74 percent and the proportion with air conditioning to rise seven percentage points to 27 percent. The four percent of Brazilian homes that do not currently house a refrigerator are all expected to have one by the start of the 2020s.
Production of steel in Brazil could double in the next decade with cement and aluminium also likely to rise almost two-fold. The industrial and transport sectors will account for two thirds of the country's total energy demand in 2020.
Electricity shortages have long plagued the Brazilian economy but President Dilma Rousseff knows the country cannot afford to suffer more blackouts when the eyes of the world are on the nation in the coming years.
But there are a variety of reasons to be optimistic. Given the substantial investment from both within Brazil and overseas, the nation's vast and almost entirely untapped wind potential is also beginning to attract attention to the fact that few other countries are as well-blessed in terms of solar power prospects.
At present large-scale hydropower looms largest in meeting Brazil's needs. The 10-year plan predicts installed capacity from such plants will rise from just under 85 GW at present to more than 115 GW.
The principal new hydropower project is the 11,233-MW Belo Monte dam to be built on the River Xingu in the state of Pará in the Amazon, which is due to start generating power in January 2015 with its full potential online by January 2019.
It will be capable of supplying enough power to serve 18 million homes housing 60 million people, according to EPE, though in reality much of its output is likely to go towards industry.
Over half of the investment in Brazil's 10-year energy plan will be spent on hydropower (Source: fotopedia/kevin.j)
Belo Monte, to be built through a public-private partnership led by the company Norte Energia, has been described by Edison Lobao, Brazil's Energy Minister, as the "jewel in the crown" of the country's development program and will be the world's third biggest such plant. But it has proved highly controversial due to claims that it will displace indigenous groups as well as the fact that it will achieve less than 30 percent of its capacity during the dry season.
EPE insists that the cost to consumers of meeting the increased demand for electricity through only wind and biomass would be double that of energy produced by Belo Monte and that the dam will help Brazil maintain "one of the cleanest energy matrices of all industrialised countries."
Despite the installation of Belo Monte and various other hydroelectric plants, the proportion of Brazil's electricity supply coming from hydropower will be expected to actually fall from 75 percent of the total in 2010 to some 67 percent in 2020.
Meanwhile, other renewable sources, such as biomass, small-scale hydropower and, principally, wind will see the 9 GW they accounted for last year triple to 27 GW in 2020. This will take their contribution to the country's electricity supply from eight to 16 percent, keeping the overall contribution of renewables to electricity at 83 pecent.
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