Brazil’s potential for generating wind power is estimated at 500 gigawatts (GW), according to the Brazilian Wind Power Association (ABEEólica), sufficient to meet the country’s energy demand three times over. The figure is also three times larger than the country’s current electricity generation, including all available sources, such as hydroelectric power, biomass, natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear power. In December 2018, the installed generation capacity totaled 162.5 GW, according to the National Electricity Agency (Aneel). Of this amount, wind power makes up 14.2 GW, the equivalent of the installed capacity of the massive Itaipu hydroelectric plant and enough to power 22 million households. Energy generated from wind takes fourth place in Brazil’s energy matrix.
The wind potential of 500 GW accounts for only onshore generation, carried out by wind turbines which meet current standards—2 to 3 megawatts (MW) on towers 150 meters high. Wind turbines are used to convert wind energy into electricity. As it happens, the industry has embarked on efforts to increase the power of wind turbines to around 5 MW. With turbines that are twice as powerful, it would be possible to double the energy generated in a similar space and reduce operational costs. “Technical advances could significantly extend the country’s wind potential,” states ABEEólica.
Multinational GE announced that it will sell its new 4.8 MW turbine in Brazil, launched around the world in 2017. The machine has a rotor of 158 m in diameter, with three propellers, each 77 m long. The full height of the turbine—the tower plus one of the propellors pointing upwards—can reach up to 240 m, the length of two soccer fields plus an extra 30 m.
The combination of a larger rotor and taller towers allows for the turbine to make use of more intense winds and produce more energy—around 90 percent more than GE’s previous turbine model, of 2.5 MW. A 4.8 MW turbine could meet the consumption of 7,500 households.
The new turbine will be manufactured in GE’s factory in the Industrial Hub of Camaçari, in Bahia, and the propellers will be made at its subsidiary LM Wind Power, in Ipojuca, Pernambuco. The propellers will be made of carbon fiber, a more resistant and lighter material than the traditional glass fiber. The technological development was carried out in the United States, while Brazil was involved in supplying data about the wind characteristics, logistical restrictions, and the availability of machinery (such as cranes) in order to adapt the manufacturing to Brazilian operating conditions.
In October, Danish manufacturer Vestas stated that it would produce 4.2 MW wind turbines in Ceará. The company is analyzing whether to revitalize its facilities in Aquiraz, where it manufactures 2 MW turbines, or if it will look for another place elsewhere in the state. Investments into the project have added up to EUR 23 million (around BRL 100 million) and they hope to create 200 jobs.
A report from the International Agency for Renewable Energy (Irena) states that the levelled cost of energy (LCOE) of wind energy fell 22 percent between 2010 and 2017—today it stands at USD 0.06 per kWh. The LCOE takes into account all expected costs throughout the lifespan of a power plant, divided by the electricity generated (in kWh) over the period. The price of turbines, which makes up about 70 percent of the investment, was reduced by 40 percent.
The Global Wind Energy Council, a forum representing the sector on a nationwide level, reports that in 2017, an extra 52 GW were added to the world’s wind energy generation capacity, bumping the total up to 539 GW. For 2022, the estimate it for this figure to reach 840 GW. Brazil is the eighth largest generator of wind energy in the world and makes up 2 percent of production around the world. The country has 568 wind parks with over 7,000 operating turbines, according to ABEEólica data from 2017. The increase in generation already foreseen should lead to an installed capacity of 17.6 GW in 2022.
ABEEólica estimates that wind power will be the most popular energy source in auctions held by Aneel in the coming years. This is due to the fact that wind power has proven to be very competitive in Brazil, with a cost around BRL 90 per MWh, as opposed to hydroelectric energy, which, in the last auction in April, cost BRL 198 per MWh.
A new frontier could come from the sea. The National Institute for Space Research (Inpe) estimated—based on a study from 2011—that the wind power potential of Brazil’s sea is 606 GW, with 57 GW located in a region of up to 10 kilometers offshore. ABEEólica, however, is not planning to expand offshore in the short term, due to the cost of investment, being roughly five times more expensive than onshore. Even so, in August 2017, Petrobras announced the elaboration of a project to install Brazil’s first offshore wind park off the coast of Guamaré (RN). The hope is that it will begin operations in 2022.
Moved by necessity
Brazil began to pay attention to the potential of wind energy in 2001, in the wake of the energy crisis known as the “blackout.” The country needed to diversify its energy matrix (which at the time was almost exclusively based on hydroelectricity, and which struggled due to low rainfall) and wind power was an alternative which could be quickly implemented. That year, the Wind Power Emergency Program (Proeólica) was created, with a goal to auction off 1,050 MW in wind power projects until the end of 2003. The initiative was unsuccessful, however.
In 2002, the government began the Incentive Program for Alternative Sources of Electricity, with the objective of encouraging a national wind power industry, but local production was still incipient and expensive. Furthermore, wind energy was not competitive at auctions, the new commercialization system for energy adopted by Aneel in 2004.
It was only as of 2009, with the first exclusive auction for wind power, that the sector began to gain momentum. At the time, 1.8 GW were sold. The following year, wind power generation began disputing contracts in renewable energy auctions and, in 2011, general energy auctions. The growth of the sector was also a result of the support of the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), which in 2012 began providing support to the machinery industry.
Today, Brazil has six wind turbine manufacturers which together have the capacity to produce 1,500 units each year, enough to generate 3.5 GW. For wind turbine propellors, 7,000 can be made each year. In total, over 70 companies form the sector’s productive chain, and the level of nationalization is 80 percent.