An Irish Civil Engineering professional's perspective from Brazil

Archive for the ‘Santa Catarina’ Category

Wind Power in Brazil: great potential, even better opportunities!

Brazil held its first wind-only energy auction in 2009, in a move to diversify its energy portfolio… and foreign companies scrambled to take part.

Some background

Soon after the millennium, a drought in Brazil that cut water to the country’s hydroelectric dams prompted severe energy shortages.

The crisis, which ravaged the country’s economy and led to electricity rationing, underscored Brazil’s pressing need to diversify away from water power.

The bidding is expected to lead to the construction of two gigawatts of wind production with an investment of about US$ 6 billion over the next two years.

Brazil counts on hydroelectricity for more than 3/4 of its electricity, but authorities are pushing biomass and wind as primary alternatives.

Wind energy’s greatest potential in Brazil is during the dry season, so it is considered as a good bet against low rainfall and the geographical spread of existing hydro resources.

Brazil’s technical potential for wind energy is 143 gigawatts due to the country’s blustery 4,600-mile coastline, where most projects are based.

The Brazilian Wind Energy Association and the government have set a goal of achieving 10 gigawatts of wind energy capacity by 2020 from the current 605 megawatts, with another 450 megawatts under construction.

The industry hopes the auction will help kick-start the wind-energy sector, which already accounts for 70% of the total in all of Latin America.

Plenty of Windfarms, mainly in the North East of the country... however many more are planned in the rest of Brazil.

Wind power in Brazil amounts to an installed capacity of 602 MW at the end of 2009, enough to power a city about 300,000 residences.

The 36 windparks and windfarms in the country, in 2009, were located in Northeastern Brazil (5 States), Southern Brazil (3 States), and Southeastern Brazil (1 State).

Potential of wind in Brazil is more intense from June to December, coinciding with the months of lower rainfall intensity.

This puts wind as a potential supplementary source of energy generated by hydroelectricity.

As of 2009, 10 projects were under construction, with a capacity of 256 MW. In 2010, 45 started construction to generate 2,139 MW, in several States around Brazil.

The U.S. company General Electric has one plant in Brazil, in the city of Campinas, and one partnership with Tecsis in Sorocaba, meeting the demand of the new projects.

While the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) was taking place in Copenhagen, Brazil’s National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL) held the country’s first ever wind-only energy auction.

On December 14 2009, around 1,800 megawatts (MW) were contracted with energy from 71 wind power plants scheduled to be delivered beginning from July 1, 2012.

While focusing domestically on wind-energy generation, Brazil is part of a larger international movement toward wind power as a primary source of energy.

In fact, wind power has seen the highest expansion rate of all available renewable energy sources, with an average growth of 27% per year since 1990, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).

Government support for renewable energy

Brazil’s first wind-energy turbine was installed in Fernando de Noronha Archipelago in 1992.

Ten years later the government created the Program for Incentive of Alternative Electric Energy Sources (PROINFA) to encourage the use of other renewable sources, such as wind power, biomass, and Small Hydroelectric Power Stations (PCHs).

Such stations use hydropower, the flagship of Brazil’s energy matrix, which comprises around three-quarters of Brazil’s installed energy capacity.

High energy production costs, coupled with the advantages of wind power as a renewable, widely available energy source, have led several countries to establish regulatory incentives and direct financial investments to stimulate wind power generation.

Growth of wind energy in Brazil

Since the inception of PROINFA, Brazil’s wind energy production has escalated from 22 MW in 2003 to 602 MW in 2009, as part of 36 private projects. Another 10 projects are under construction, with a capacity of 256.4 MW, and 45 additional projects have been approved be ANEEL with an estimated potential of 2,139.7 MW.  Developing these wind power sources in Brazil is helping the country to meet its strategic objectives of enhancing energy security, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating jobs. The potential for this type of power generation in Brazil could reach up to 145,000 MW, according to the 2001 Brazilian Wind Power Potential Report by the Electric Energy Research Center (CEPEL).

Average Annual Wind Velocity - Brazil.

As you can see comparing these wind velocities and the previous map of current and planned projects… there are many areas of high potential (yellows and reds) which do not yet have windfarms installed or even planned past a concept stage.


The cost of energy production continues to pose a significant challenge to the growth of wind energy. The price per megawatt hour (MWh) established in Brazil’s auction of wind power reserve supply is R$189, while the cap defined in bidding for power plants of the Madeira River Hydroelectricity Complex was R$91 (UHE Jirau) in 2008, and R$122 (UHE Santo Antonio) in 2007. These hydroelectricity prices were marked down by up to 35% in the 2008 and 2007 auctions; the energy supply was negotiated at R$71.4/MWh in the case of Jirau, and R$78.9/MWh for the Santo Antonio plant.

Canoa Quebrada Windturbines

A passing bus near Canoa Quebrada, Brazil, demonstrates the size of modern wind turbines.

To conclude… there is no conclusion.

Wind in Brazil is an ongoing subject, and I believe that Wind should be developed in as a priority source of energy. Even more so than Brazil’s hydro-electric system, and as is currently being debated in Congress in Brazil how it may have negative consequences on indigenous reserves by means of extensive flooding. This I will discuss at length in another article.

Let’s see if Brazil will not forget about Wind Energy now that Petrobras has made such lucrative finds of Oil and Gas offshore of Rio.

I am hopeful.

However if we wish to play a part in Brazil’s future… then we need to be in it, to win it!


Brazil’s leap into better energy supply

New power plant, to be in place and operational before 2014

Nicknamed “The Marvelous City,” Rio de Janeiro is the gateway to Brazil. And soon over 7-million spectators will arrive for the highly anticipated 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. The world will watch as Rio becomes the first city to host the Olympic games in South America and only the second to ever host both events back to back. There is however growing concern that the Olympic torch will be the only thing illuminating the night sky. That’s because Rio has repeatedly fallen victim to some of the worst power failures in history. So the Brazilian government has launched an ambitious plan to remove the entire city from the nation’s aging power grid and transform Rio into a self-sufficient ‘power island.’ The plan includes re-linking over 160 km of power lines, building the largest nuclear generator in the country, and the lynchpin: the Simplício Hydroelectric Complex.

This is one the of largest construction sites in the world, spanning an incredible 24 km. Crews are racing to divert over 780-billion gallons of water from the Paraiba do Sul River through some of the world’s widest tunnels. Once operational, this hydroelectric facility will help to generate nearly 30% more power for Rio. But with January storms threatening to dump over a foot of rain on their progress, crews must prepare for the messy and dangerous road ahead.

The project is a joint venture between Odebrecht Energy (leader) and Andrade Gutierrez. The project, contracted by Eletrobras (Furnas Centrais Elétricas S.A.), encompasses the towns of Três Rios and Sapucaia (Rio de Janeiro), Além Paraíba and Chiador (Minas Gerais) and includes a concrete dam in Anta, and two energy houses separated by a hydraulic circuit formed by channels, dikes and tunnels. When finished the Complex will have a production capacity of 333.7 MW.

The decision to re-route the river (as opposed to creating a reservoir, by flooding upstream) was in the interest of minimizing the project’s social and environmental impact on the region.

According to Fernando Chein, Contract Director, the construction of the Anta dam with Rolled Compacted Concrete is a major advantage:

“The system presents advantages such as speed in finishing the project and in the reduction, by half, in the use of cement by cubic meter of concrete”.

Seven of the Widest Tunnels in the World
Countless waterfalls and rapids make the Paraiba do Sul one of the wildest rivers in Brazil. To accommodate its torrent, each of the 7 diversion tunnels on the Simplício Hydroelectric Project must measure over 50 m in circumference. But there isn’t a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) on the planet that large. So workers must rely on a far more dangerous method of tunneling — heavy-duty jumbo drills and dynamite.


Tunnel no.3 (6km long)

One of the Biggest Construction Sites in the World
The Simplício Hydroelectric Complex spans over 24 km, making it one of the biggest construction sites on Earth. Not only is this project larger than Manhattan Island, it’s also equipped with a city-like infrastructure complete with 5 medical centers, 4 data/voice towers, 6 cafeterias, 3 concrete plants, and a fleet of 70 cars and buses.

Everything in this project is on a grand scale

One of the Largest Earth-Moving Projects in the World
If a dam is constructed directly on the Paraiba do Sul River the reservoir it creates will flood the nearby town of Sapucaia. Rather than displace 130,000 people, engineers are diverting the river for a stretch of 24 km through 7 different mountains and 13 man-made channels. To pull off a job of this size workers must use over 600 different earth-moving vehicles. The contractors are utilising a an innovative construction method for the Civil works called hydroseeding, in order to stabilise the slopes.

Some of the Civil Engineering works in the Simplício complex

Longest Power Transmission Link Ever Built
Approximately 90% of Brazil’s power comes from hydroelectricity. And because most of the country’s water is located in the Amazon rainforest, an extensive power grid is needed to connect remote hydroelectric outposts with major coastal cities like Rio de Janeiro. The latest addition to this grid will extend an unprecedented 2,400 km, making it the longest power transmission link in the world.

3 Giant Turbines
The Francis turbine is the most widely used hydro turbine on the planet. Here at Simplício, 3 of them will be in use, each capable of generating 102 megawatts of power. But the real benefit to the Francis turbine is adaptability. The erratic flow of the Paraiba do Sul creates a major obstacle for this project because drastic changes in water pressure at a hydroelectric plant either hamper energy production or completely destroy the turbines. The Francis turbine however has a revolutionary design that accommodates heads ranging anywhere from 9 m to upwards of 30 m.

Most Powerful Hydroelectric Plant in the World
The Itaipu Dam is Brazil’s greatest source of energy and home to one of the biggest hydroelectric complexes in the world. It is located in the south of Brazil, near the Foz do Iguaçu waterfalls on the border with Argentina and Paraguay. In 2008 the plant generated a record 94.68-billion kilowatt-hours. That’s over 10-billion kilowatt-hours more than Three Gorges Dam! Here, maintenance is paramount since Itaipu supplies 20% of the energy consumed by Brazil and 90% of that consumed by Paraguay.

Itaipu dam (low flow)

WFO activity in Brazil

Some recent developments in relation to the improvements currently taking place in the health system and its infrastructure in Brazil.

The World Family Organisation is planning to build a few hospitals in Brazil over the next five years.

The WFO is currently constructing a much-needed regional hospital in the city of Biguaçu in state of Santa Catarina.

Dr. Deisi Kusztra (President of the World Family Organization) acompanying Raimundo Columbo (governor of Santa Catarina) during an inspection of construction work at Biguaçu Regional Hospital on February 4, 2011.

For more on this project, plese visit the WFO News Archives at the following link: Training in Biguaçu Municipality – SC

The same NGO has already built one hospital (in 2008) in the larger city of Balneário Camboriú in Santa Catarina.

Whilst Brazil can proudly boast one of the best public health systems in the world, it is only true on paper.

Coping with a population of nearly 200 million makes SUS (Universal Health System) painstakingly beaurocratic and at times completely ineffective.

However with continued investment, as the current Government is hoping and working towards, there will be a substantial improvement in the efficiency and standards which have hampered Brazil’s social progress (and consequently economic progress also).

A Different Pace

Downtown of Florianópolis City,Capital of Sant...

Image via Wikipedia

It should be noted for those unaware of it, that many things in Brazil happen at a different pace than in Ireland and Europe. Some things at a much more relaxed and steady pace, others at startling speed. It really can vary from place to place also.

For instance, where I am based in Santa Catarina, there is a road in need of repair for quite a few years now (apparently). It’s only a minor road mind, exactly the same as you might find in Ireland (asphalt overdue a refurbishment). However, nearby a six storey building has risen from basement to roof, in the space of a few weeks.

Obviously, there is a discrepancy between the public and private sectors in terms of project speed. Which of course is true for many countries (Ireland included). As each sector has its own priorities and budget parameters respectively. This is just an example to illustrate other scenarios which I have witnessed and experienced, during my time in Brazil.

So take heed when you are told that things are different here… but don’t see this as a negative aspect, it’s quite the opposite.

Adapting to Brazil

Skyscrapers and beach, within metres of each other.

So I’ve arrived in Brazil and seem to be acclimatising fairly well so far. My spoken Portuguese is improving in leaps and bounds. Of course, I understand more of the language than I can speak, as with most languages in the beginning.

Now the real work of blending my own European approach with the mindset of the local industry begins, so as to better comprehend how things work here.

My first impressions were of a country not dissimilar to Ireland not so long ago. Of course, it’s hotter and more tropical too.

I have seen a lot of impressive new buildings already, and many more under construction. My current location isn’t even a major city like São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. For example in Balneário Camboriú (a medium sized city by Brazilian standards), I witnessed the impressive high-rise buildings concentrated in an area adjacent to the beach. Most in an Art Deco style of Architecture, with vibrant colours and each one different in some way from the others. This is not something you will see in European cities of this size, it is more similar to major North American cities with the exception of the vivid colour schemes. At the same time, is this the best approach for this particular city to have taken? For a city with the beach (tourism) as it’s major industry, the sun is obscured by the skyscrapers by 2pm in the afternoon. Is this the best situation for the inhabitants, or not?

In my opinion, with the beacon of the World Cup in 2014 & the Rio Olympics in 2016, there is a tangible sense of optimism in the words of the Engineering professionals  I have spoken to so far. Brasil sees itself making great strides in the next decade and I agree with this sentiment. This is a time of opportunity for those involved in Brazil’s development. There is a vitality and inventiveness in the approach people have here. Couple this with the opportunity to further advance the infrastructure, and you have a unique recipe for possibly the most dynamic economy of the forthcoming decade.

As a footnote, the salaries of Steel fixers (on-site Rebar workers) in São Paulo, has risen by 4,72% in the last 12 months. Could this be the first signs of the rise in construction in Brazil? Only time will tell.

Of course, it’s not just Civil Engineering I am optimistic about in Brazil… all disciplines will be important in the development of Brazil’s future. Many multi-national companies (IT, Mineral, Oil & Gas etc) have already realised the prospect of Brazil’s potential.

More industry news to follow soon, as I am travelling to São Paulo in February.

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