Solar Energy Crowns Social Housing Programme in Brazil

A view of houses with solar panels on their rooftops in the Maria Pires Perillo housing complex, two kilometres from the city of Palmeiras de Goiás. With 740 homes, it is the largest solar energy project in social housing complexes in the state of Goiás, in central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A view of houses with solar panels on their rooftops in the
Maria Pires Perillo housing complex, two kilometres from the city
of Palmeiras de Goiás. With 740 homes, it is the largest solar
energy project in social housing complexes in the state of Goiás,
in central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
PALMEIRAS DE GOIÁS, Brazil, Jan 4 2019 (IPS)

“Solar energy makes my happiness complete,” said Divina
Cardoso dos Santos, owner of one of 740 houses with photovoltaic
panels on the rooftops in a settlement on the outskirts of this
central Brazilian city.

“The first blessing was thishouse,” said the 67-year-old
mother of five and grandmother of 14. “I paid 600 reais (155
dollars) a month for rent in the city of Palmeiras, and now I pay
monthly quotas of just 25 reais (6.50 dollars) for this house,
which is mine,” she told IPS.

Her retirement pension, which for the past two years has assured
her an income equivalent to the minimum wage (250 dollars) a month,
and visits from a daughter who lives in Switzerland are “other
blessings,” which preceded the solar panels, which allow her to
save almost the entire cost of the electricity bill – about 15
dollars a month.

The Maria PiresPerillo Residential complex, a group of 740 homes
that began to house poor families in 2016, is a social housing
project of the Housing Agency (AGEHAB) of the state of Goiás, in
west-central Brazil.

Located two kilometres from Palmeiras de Goiás, a city of
28,000 people, it is the largest of the four residential complexes
that AGEHAB will supply with solar energy. The agency is a pioneer
in Brazil in includingsolar power in housing programmes.

“We would like to build all the new housing complexes with
solar panels and also install them in the ones built previously,”
Cleomar Dutra, president of AGEHAB, told IPS.

The agency subsidises the installation, granting 3,000 reais
(780 dollars) to each family, through
the”ChequeMaisMoradia”programme for the improvement of homes.
The money covers the cost of two solar panels and the necessary
equipment, such as inverters, cables and supports.

But this year’s devaluation of the Brazilian currency, the
real, drove up the cost of the panels and other equipment, which is
almost all imported. Additional resources for the facilities in the
Palmeiras complex, which are yet to be completed, had to be sought,
said Dutra.

Divina Cardoso dos Santos stands in front of her house in a social housing complex, for which she pays a monthly fee of about 6.5 dollars, on the outskirts of the Brazilian city of Palmeiras de Goiás. That's 24 times less than the rent she used to pay. On the neighbouring rooftop can be seen a solar water heater, which all of the homes in the neighbourhood have. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Divina Cardoso dos Santos stands in front of her house in a
social housing complex, for which she pays a monthly fee of about
6.5 dollars, on the outskirts of the Brazilian city of Palmeiras de
Goiás. That’s 24 times less than the rent she used to pay. On
the neighbouring rooftop can be seen a solar water heater, which
all of the homes in the neighbourhood have. Credit: Mario
Osava/IPS

“Not all of the houses will have solar panels, because some
did not sign the financing contract for the ‘Cheque Mais
Moradia’,” said Pedro de Oliveira Neto, the 32-year-old
technician who runs the facilities at the Maria Perillo Residential
Complex, installed by Nexsolar.

Oliveira has been doing this work for the past four months,
after taking a specialised course. Before that, he worked in the
meat industry and in mining. Now he wants to stay in the field of
solar energy, “which has a future, it’s innovation,” he told
IPS.

Actually, most of the houses in the complex have solar panels,
but few of them generate their own energy. After they are
installed, other conditions must be met in order for the local
power company, Enel from Italy, to connect each home’s system to
the grid.

The process began in March 2017 when solar units were installed
in three homes as a test.

Patricia Soares de Oliveira, 31, married with an eight-year-old
daughter, was included in that first installation. Her electricity
bill fell to one-fifth of the previous one. Now she pays about four
dollars a month.

“We have two TV sets, a refrigerator, a washing machine, a
computer and fans,” she told IPS to explain how much electricity
they use.

“Now we want to reduce the water bill, which costs us 10 to 12
times more than electricity,” she complained.

Her family also no longer has to pay rent because they were
granted a home in the complex. Whereas they used to pay 350 reais
(90 dollars) a month they now pay just 25 reais (6.50 dollars) per
month, the fee for the small portion of the financing that the
owners have to pay.

The low cost of the home is due to a subsidy of up to 20,000
reais (5,200 dollars) granted by AGEHAB, through the ‘Cheque Mais
Moradia’ programme for construction, to poor families with
incomes of up to three minimum wages (about 740 dollars), said
Dutra, the head of AGEHAB.

Two workers install solar panels on a house in the Maria Pires Perillo housing complex, an additional benefit for the poor families who are buying their homes at a very low cost. The Goiana Housing Agency of the state government of Goias, in central Brazil, subsidises most of the housing and the solar energy. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Two workers install solar panels on a house in the Maria Pires
Perillo housing complex, an additional benefit for the poor
families who are buying their homes at a very low cost. The Goiana
Housing Agency of the state government of Goias, in central Brazil,
subsidises most of the housing and the solar energy. Credit: Mario
Osava/IPS

The families settled in the complex are only paying the
complementary financing from the Federal Economic Fund, a
government bank.

“A 44-square-metre house, like the ones in the complex, are
built with materials that cost 29,000 reais (7,500 dollars), but
the cost can be reduced if the purchase is collective,” estimated
Dutra. So the ‘Cheque Mais Moradia’ is insufficient, but almost
enough.

If the beneficiary families are in charge of construction,
working together collectively, or if the mayor’s office provides
the labour, the houses can be built practically without running up
a debt, Dutra said.

The housing complexes are aimed at the most needy local
families, since AGEHAB does not have the resources to assist
everyone, she said.

Palmeiras de Goiás was included in the system because the
population grew well above the state average, due to immigration.
New meat, dairy and animal feed industries attracted many people
looking for work.

Generating electricity from solar panels is a novelty of the
last two years in the Goiás housing programme, but solar energy
was already used in social housing projects for heating water –
there are solar boilers on every rooftop.

It is a cheaper and more accessible technology, quite widespread
in Brazil, even in the Northeast region, where people are not used
to bathing with hot water, due to the high local temperatures.

Patricia Soares de Oliveira, who was the first to receive solar panels as a test in 2017, stands in front of her house and next to an electric meter that reads "danger of electric shock". Her power bill in this social housing complex on the outskirts of Palmeiras de Goiás in central Brazil has fallen to one-fifth of what she previously paid. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Patricia Soares de Oliveira, who was the first to receive solar
panels as a test in 2017, stands in front of her house and next to
an electric meter that reads “danger of electric shock”. Her
power bill in this social housing complex on the outskirts of
Palmeiras de Goiás in central Brazil has fallen to one-fifth of
what she previously paid. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Photovoltaic electricity generation has immense potential in
Brazil. In the Midwest, solar radiation from a 30-square-metre
rooftop could produce five times the electricity consumed by a
low-income family, estimated Dennys Azevedo, an engineer who is
works manager at AGEHAB.

That generation would be enough for 3.5 households consuming the
national average, 157 kilowatts/hour per month, he told IPS.

But the rules set by the National Electric Energy Agency
(Aneel), the Brazilian regulatory body, do not allow consumers to
sell the energy they generate. The only benefit they receive is
that the energy that they generate and consume is deducted from
their electric bill.

The houses of the Maria Perillo Residential complex, for
example, only have two solar panels, which occupy only about
one-fifth of the rooftop. An additional panel would exceed the
consumption of local families.

That rule, which does not exist in countries that have greatly
expanded solar generation, such as Germany, is difficult to
eliminate because of “pressure from distribution companies that
would lose market share,” said Azevedo.

In addition, these power companies want to charge a tax for
distributed (decentralised) solar generation, basically a tax for
the use of the power lines, a cost that is currently subsidised,
according to them. But “we’ve all already paid an availability
tax” for the power grid, said the engineer.

Another restriction is the importation of equipment not yet
manufactured in Brazil. The prices depend on the exchange rate, and
any devaluation of the national currency makes everything more
expensive, making planning impossible, he argued.

In addition, multiple expensive taxes raise the prices of solar
equipment in Brazil, cancelling out part of the cost reduction for
all solar energy components, said Azevedo, who explained that
efforts are being made to avoid that taxation, “perhaps by buying
equipment through the United Nations,” and to obtain funds for
new projects.

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Solar Energy Crowns Social Housing Programme in Brazil
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Solar Energy Crowns Social Housing Programme in Brazil