Distributed Generation Provides Hope of Energy for the Poor in Brazil

A hotel in Xanxerê, in the western part of the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, took advantage of its rooftops to generate its own solar energy and save on electricity costs. Similar initiatives have taken place in other states of the country, such as the northeastern state of Paraíba, where solar power self-generation facilities are mushrooming in the capital, Sousa. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A hotel in Xanxerê, in the western part of the southern
Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, took advantage of its rooftops
to generate its own solar energy and save on electricity costs.
Similar initiatives have taken place in other states of the
country, such as the northeastern state of Paraíba, where solar
power self-generation facilities are mushrooming in the capital,
Sousa. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RÍO DE JANEIRO, Oct 28 2020 (IPS)

“Showing solidarity is consuming the energy generated in your
own municipality” – this is the motto of a project of
distributed electricity generation in one of Brazil’s many poor
neighbourhoods.

“Sertão (the word for the country’s semiarid hinterland)
with solidarity” is how the director of the Brazilian Association of
Distributed Generation
(ABGD) in the southeastern state of
Minas Gerais, Walter Abreu, named the project. The organisation
promotes solar energy in the north of that state, where 1.5 million
of the state’s 2.7 million people live in poverty and half of
these in extreme poverty.

If local governments were to decide to use solar panels to
generate the electricity consumed by their offices and other
facilities, this would represent significant savings in public
spending and incomes comparable to a minimum wage (about 200
dollars per month) for 3,500 families, estimated Abreu in an
interview with Solar TV, a
channel that advocates the use of solar power.

Another estimate he provided is that increasing the proportion
of solar energy in the national electricity grid to five percent
could lift out of poverty two million people in Brazil’s semiarid
Northeast, a region of 27 million people that experienced its
longest drought between 2011 and 2018.

Distributed or decentralised generation is seen as an important
means of giving a social boost to poor or energy-poor communities
in different parts of this country, where 23.7 million people out
of a total population of 212 million live in poverty.

The expansion of decentralised generation is part of a broader
transition in several sectors, such as decarbonisation in response
to requirements for combating climate change, the breakdown of
monopolies and empowerment of consumers to become “prosumers”
– both producers and consumers at the same time.

 Carlos Evangelista, president of the Brazilian Association of Distributed Generation, explained to IPS that Brazil already has more than 400,000 "prosumer" plants for electricity from renewable sources, mainly solar. The growth and diversification of this type of generation is part of a global trend. CREDIT: Courtesy of ABGD

Carlos Evangelista, president of the Brazilian Association of
Distributed Generation, explained to IPS that Brazil already has
more than 400,000 “prosumer” plants for electricity from
renewable sources, mainly solar. The growth and diversification of
this type of generation is part of a global trend. CREDIT: Courtesy
of ABGD

In this process, solar energy plays a leading role, “as the
source that is growing the fastest and generating the most jobs,”
Carlos Evangelista, president of ABGD, told IPS by phone from São
Paulo.

In addition, 57 percent of these jobs in Brazil arise from the
installation of the solar power systems, i.e., they are local, not
distant or foreign, such as jobs involved in the manufacture and
sales of the equipment, he pointed out.

The isolated solar energy systems in many communities in the
Amazon rainforest, far from the electricity grid, produce perhaps
the most outstanding effects.

They are used to pump water and to run refrigerators to preserve
fish, the main local source of protein, other foods and exportable
forest products, such as açaí, the fruit of a palm tree of the
same name (Euterpe oleracea).

In general, scattered villages and hamlets in the jungle have
diesel or gasoline generators, which only operate a few hours at
night, due to the high cost of fuel and its scarcity. Fuel takes
days to bring in by river boat.

ABGD, with support from the U.S.-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation,
promotes policies and projects together with more than sixty
municipalities in the Amazon jungle in northern Brazil, with the
aim of “mobilising resources for an economy that makes the
transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and solar energy is one
of the solutions,” said Evangelista.

“Four projects were completed in the Purus River basin,”
with the installation of micro solar plants and the training of
local technicians for the installation and maintenance of the
equipment, the involvement of local leaders and the community, in
order to “create a self-propelled economic ecosystem,” he
said.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the activities of the two-year
project, but ABGD’s new director of sustainability and social
action, Lucia Abadia, announced for the near future the larger
“Divine Light” project, which would create 150 community micro
solar plants.

This housing complex for a thousand poor families in Juazeiro, in the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, was built at the beginning of the last decade with 9,144 solar panels to generate electricity for self-consumption and sell the surplus. In 2016, the monthly payment of about 18 dollars to each resident was suspended because the project did not meet all the requirements for distributed generation. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

This housing complex for a thousand poor families in Juazeiro,
in the Northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia, was built at the
beginning of the last decade with 9,144 solar panels to generate
electricity for self-consumption and sell the surplus. In 2016, the
monthly payment of about 18 dollars to each resident was suspended
because the project did not meet all the requirements for
distributed generation. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

“The people in the Amazon need energy for their daily tasks
and for starting businesses, producing, freezing and storing food,
and thus living better while preserving the forests, without
burning firewood,” she told IPS from Paulinia, 120 km from São
Paulo.

Abadia “discovered” solar energy in her previous business
activity, construction, when she was looking for solutions to
develop “smart neighborhoods”, where she wanted to incorporate
energy alternatives.

She then joined a solar system installation company which led
her to ABGD, where she became director of sustainability, an
unremunerated volunteer position.

In the Amazon, there are still 990,000 Brazilians without
electricity, including indigenous people on reservations, riverbank
dwellers, small farmers and people who live in environmental
conservation areas, according to a study by the non-governmental
Institute of
Energy and Environment
, in São Paulo.

In order to mobilise municipal authorities, the private sector
and community leaders, ABGD is preparing a manual on public
policies for the Amazon, which details the potential of distributed
generation to bolster the local economy by generating jobs and
social improvements.

Evangelista said: “We want to bring information to the local
governments, about national and state public policies with which
authorities in the interior are sometimes unfamiliar, such as the
possibility of stimulating local energy generation with measures
like tax reduction.”

It’s a process of transition, of a change in mentality that
requires planning and takes time, he said. Many apparently
well-designed projects have failed in the Amazon because they did
not take into account local specificities, he added.

Lucia Abadia, director of sustainability in the Brazilian Association of Distributed Generation and executive director of Yellow Energía Solar, aims to promote 150 micro solar plants in remote communities in the Amazon rainforest, to improve the quality of life for local residents and boost local development. CREDIT: Courtesy of ABGD

Lucia Abadia, director of sustainability in the Brazilian
Association of Distributed Generation and executive director of
Yellow Energía Solar, aims to promote 150 micro solar plants in
remote communities in the Amazon rainforest, to improve the quality
of life for local residents and boost local development. CREDIT:
Courtesy of ABGD

There are also embedded interests, such as the fuel
business.

“I received death threats for going against the diesel fuel
distribution chain,” said Evangelista, an engineer whose interest
in distributed generation was awakened when he had to secure power
for telecommunication antennas while working for a transnational
company.

In 2015 he founded ABGD with the participation of 14 companies
from the power industry, involved in various services, production
or sources. Today there are more than 800 associates.

The government also took a new stance on the energy exclusion
experienced by many communities in the Amazon. In February, it
launched the “More Light for the Amazon” programme, but with a
limited goal of bringing solar energy to 70,000 families (a total
of some 300,000 people).

But decentralised electricity generation as a factor in local
social and economic development is also a concern in the Northeast,
another poor region of Brazil.

“The Northeast concentrates 65 percent of the installed
capacity of centralised solar energy, but only 18 percent of
distributed generation,” said Daniel Lima, president of the
Northeast Association of Solar Energy (Anesolar), founded in
August, and director of the solar energy company RDSol.

“The state of Minas Gerais installed more power in solar
distributed generation than the nine states of the Northeast,” he
noted.

The difference lies in the tax exemption that Minas Gerais has
been offering for the past five years, an initiative only followed
by the state of Rio de Janeiro, starting in July of this year.
Anesolar will demand that the governments of the Northeastern
states adopt a similar measure.

Centralised generation, generally on solar farms, grew a great
deal because of the low price of land in the Northeast, compared to
other regions, Lima explained. The difficulty that consumers run
into with regard to finding financing is another barrier to their
becoming “prosumers”, he added.

Even so, there are cases of successful projects, such as that of
the Cabedelo School of Medicine, in the state of Paraíba, which
took advantage of its parking lot with 300 parking spaces and
covered it with solar panels. The energy generated allowed it to
save 90 percent of its electrical expenses – about 11,000 dollars
per month.

The major incentive for people to become prosumers is the
unsustainable increase in the price of electricity, which for more
than a decade has been rising more than inflation, the result of
subsidies to various sectors and activities whose cost is charged
to energy consumers, Lima said by telephone from a town in Alagoas,
a neighbouring state where he has been living during the COVID-19
crisis.

There is still very little distributed generation in Brazil, but
it is growing rapidly. It rose twofold from one to two gigawatts
between June and December 2019 and reached three GW in May 2020,
according to the Energy Research Company, a planning body under the
Ministry of Mines and Energy.

The post
Distributed Generation Provides Hope of Energy for the Poor in
Brazil
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Distributed Generation Provides Hope of Energy for the Poor
in Brazil