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Brazil: Research and Advances in Renewable Energy Sources

Brazil has received acclaim in recent decades as a country of clean energy, with sources like hydroelectric power and alcohol playing a major role in the country’s energy mix. The inclusion of these sources of alternative energy have been made possible thanks to research conducted by various social players and to the government’s adoption of the systems proposed. The Amazônia News blog summarizes the data on energy supply by source [pt]:

De acordo com dados da Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (EPE), 90% da energia gerada no Brasil em 2009, veio de fontes renováveis – principalmente hidráulica (83,7%), biomassa (5,9%) e eólica, com uma pequena participação (0,3%).
Transformar esse potencial natural em capacidade instalada e produção exige superar uma série de gargalos econômicos, tecnológicos, logísticos e regulatórios. A previsão da EPE é de que, até 2019, o perfil da matriz energética brasileira como um todo não mude muito.

According to data from the Energy Research Company [Empresa de Pesquisa Energética] (EPE), 90% of the energy generated in Brazil in 2009 came from renewable sources, primarily water (83.7%), biomass (5.9%) and, nominally, wind (0.3%).
Transforming this natural potential into installed and production capacity requires overcoming a series of economic, technological, logistical and regulatory bottlenecks. The EPE predicts that Brazil’s overall energy mix will not have changed much by 2019.

Despite the predominant supply of renewable energy that Brazil offers, [see graph by Balanço Nacional de Energia (BEN, pt)], the trajectory of energy use demonstrates that the country’s heaviest consumption is still derived from petroleum-based sources. Thus, there is an excess of renewable energy that Brazil sells to other countries while it is remains obligated to import petroleum-generated energy.

History of Energy Consumption by Source in Brazil – 2009, Source: BEN – 2010 (CC)

The solution to this situation lies in technological advances. One of researchers’ primary objectives is to explore new horizons for humanity, to develop new technologies and adapt technological advances to the most diverse situations. In the field of power generation and use, these efforts are concentrated on enabling the exploration and application of new sources of energy and in studies to make these sources more feasible. This work is made possible only by training qualified professionals and by supporting research centers.

Lightening – A Possible New Source of Energy, by Brujo+ on Flickr (CC)

In recent months, blogs like Lapsblog, Sandro Nasser Sicuto and Tecnólogos Ambientais [all in pt] have reported more than one Brazilian breakthrough in energy and power. On August 25, 2009, at the Boston meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), Unicamp’s Professor Fernando Galembeck introduced a model that captures the electricity that accumulates in atmospheric water droplets, hygroeletricity. This study brings academic light some controversial points regarding the formation of lightening and presents initial steps to harness this source of energy for human development.

The application of this discovery is still being studied and may take some time before its presence is a reality in consumers’ every day lives. Hygroelectricity will likely be harnessed using metal plates, but the materials and mechanisms involved require further study. In a discussion on the blog written by Journalist Luis Nassif regarding an article originally published by António Sisoto, Marko comments on Professor Galembeck’s research position:

Ok Legal mas vamos [com] calma, afinal explicar determinado fenômeno é 1 coisa, extrair utilidade [de] tal explicação são ooooutro$$$$$ 500 (mto$ quinhento$ aliá$$ ) inclusive “outros quinhentos” políticos, e não apenas financeiros…
Ademais, a história está cansada d demonstrar q nem sempre a explicação d determinado fenômeno precede ou é essencial p/a utilização prática do mesmo.

Ok, cool, but let’s take it easy. After all, explaining a given phenomenon is one thing, and making us of it is $$$omething else altogether (quite $$$omething), probably another political something too, and not just a financial $$$omething… And what’s more, history is tired of showing that the explanation of a given phenomenon is not always followed by or essential for its subsequent practical use.

This long road was already traversed in the quest to utilize solar energy. The first steps [pt] in the theoretical development of solar energy were taken in the 1930. At that time, the use of photovoltaic panels was in its infancy. Today, this is a reality [pt] for an untold number of companies and one of the sources for clean energy used to power sustainable projects.

Yet, despite the availability of this technology in the market, according to the Amazônia News blog, the majority of Brazilians are not in any condition to access renewable energy [pt]:

O problema é o preço. A energia solar, ainda é relativamente cara, tornando um empreendimento deste porte inviável economicamente. O que não significa que ela não desempenhe um papel estratégico no desenvolvimento sustentável do país. Segundo [Enio Bueno] Pereira, a estratégia mais simples, seria disseminar o uso de painéis solares em telhados para uso doméstico, como forma de reduzir a demanda sobre o sistema e, assim, liberar mais energia para uso industrial, principalmente nos horários de pico.

The problem is price. Solar energy is still relatively expensive, meaning an endeavor of this size is economically unviable. This is not to say that solar energy does not play a strategic role in the country’s sustainable development. According to [Enio Bueno] Pereira, the most simple strategy would be to disseminate the use of solar panels on roofs for domestic use as a means of reducing demand on the system and, thus, freeing up more energy for industrial use, primarily during peak hours.

Photo from Sociedade do Sol, reprinted with permission

Most consumption in Brazilian residences comes from electric showers. Noting the needs of Brazilian society, a group of researchers at the USP developed a low-cost solar heating system (ASBC in Portuguese). The system uses PVC covering to capture solar energy and heat the water contained in special holder, which can potentially reduce monthly electricity consumption by 60% – savings that recover the initial investment within five months. Numerous Brazilian blogs like that of Carol Daemon have been spreading word about this system and its installation, and the Sociedade do Sol site even includes free installation manuals as well as a list of material suppliers [all in pt].

Wind energy has also been gaining ground with a number of companies that have placed their bets on the importance of this clean-energy source as a viable alternative for the future.

Lampposts Powered by Solar and Wind Energy, March 23, 2010 Photo Reprinted with Permission from Fiec Magazine

The Ética Global blog has been promoting an innovative project published in Fiec magazine and developed by Mechanical Engineer Fernadez Ximentes, owner of Gram Eolic in the state of Ceará. The project consists of lampposts powered entirely by wind and solar energy that include a seven-day window in which they can remain lit without any solar or wind input. These lampposts are equipped with an independent energy production (IEP) system, which is capable of generating energy for another three lampposts. The airplane format was chosen as a means to bring together the solar panels and wind propeller in a single device.

According to the company, these lampposts represent savings of R$21,000.00 per kilometer/month when used as a substitute for purely electric lampposts, and their installation cost is 10% less than that of traditional lampposts. The state government is partner in the project and plans to install the system within the next few years.

All that remains now is to wait to see if the projections of Waler Kohn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, were correct when he said that solar and wind energy could bring an end to the era of petroleum [pt].

Humanity depends on energy to sustain its growth. Through studies conducted by various social players, we can decrease the weight given to huge generation complexes, like hydroelectric dams and plants that burn fossil fuels, offering a viable alternative to respond to the country’s energy needs.

Despite Brazil’s opting for renewable energies, heavy impact has already been felt by generating energy through the burning of fossil fuels and the operation of hydroelectric dams, notably the loss of biodiversity through the suppression of plant life. New technologies will enable humanity to produce renewable energy with less environmental impact. As the development of technologies that seek to substitute fossil fuels with renewable sources is of fundamental importance for national sovereignty and development, it now falls upon the government and leadership to adopt these new technologies in their planning so that Brazil can continue to be the country of ever-cleaner renewable energy.

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