Brazil’s wind chimes with China

The Brotas de Macaúbas wind farm in Bahia, Brazil. Chinese companies are looking to develop Brazil’s wind energy capacity (image: Alberto Coutinho/Secom).

Brazil’s wind chimes with China

The aquisition of Brazilian wind power operator Casa de los Vientos represented the quickest way for CGN Meiya Power Holdings of China, who are negotiating a minority stake worth an estimated $US 640m, to grow their presence in Brazil’s renewable energy market, Bloomberg recently reported. Casa de los Vientos currently has around 1.109MW of installed capacity spread across its associated projects.

Chinese companies have scarcely ventured into Brazil’s regulated energy sector and CGN Meiya’s move would allow them to familiarise themselves with the market and be well placed to further develop it. Experts said that others would most likely follow in their footsteps and diversify into both energy generation and distribution.

Faced with economic deceleration and the threat of energy rationing as a consequence of a severe drought and the country’s reliance on hydropower, Chinese investment presents the crisis-stricken Brazilian government with a timely potential solution.

Owing to strong and immediate demand, the wind sector in Brazil is an attractive option for China, according to Edvaldo Santana, a consultant and former director of the regulatory body the National Agency of Electric Energy (ANEEL in Portuguese). The country needs projects that can be executed swiftly and that don’t depend on Brazil’s official source of development finance, the National Development Bank (BNDES in Portuguese).

To achieve this, he explained, Brazil requires wind turbine providers that can deliver them immediately. A wind park can begin to operate commercially two years after works have begun, provided they are located in easily accessible areas and are close to the transmission network.

“This is the right moment for Chinese companies to enter Brazil” declared Elbia Silva Gannoum, president of the Brazilian Association of Wind Power (ABEEólica in Portuguese). “The market is beginning a phase of consolidation, with few uncertainties. So it’s possible to predict the conditions and the profitability,” she said.

João Carlos de Oliveira Mello, president of consultancy Thymos agrees. Moreover, he predicts that China could also occupy an important niche in the distributed energy market; smaller projects over those with larger installed capacity which offer more variety in generation, otherwise known as ‘Small is Beautiful’.

Arguing along the same lines, Joísa Dutra Saraiva a professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV in Portuguese), suggests Chinese companies could enter the distributed, micro and mini generation sectors.

“They’re underdeveloped areas in Brazil and ones which would be productive to pursue for a better energy sector,” said Saraive, also a former director of ANEEL.

 

Opportunities

China finds itself in the midst of an overhaul of its carbon-heavy energy matrix at home. Recently, the country signed an agreement with the US committing to the more aggressive reduction of Green House Gasses (GHGs) and is aiming to increase clean energy supply to around 1 Terawatt (TW), equivalent to 20% of the country’s installed capacity. These measures will have to be introduced in the context of slower growth in China and will involve cutting interest rates to stimulate domestic demand.

At the same time Brazil, one of China’s principle trade partners, finds itself fighting a recession after years of economic stimulus that resulted in inflation that exceeded official figures. Local economists argue that the road to recovery is to be found via the infrastructure sector, including electric energy.

Back in 2001, Brazil rationed energy after a long drought depleted resevoirs. At the time, the government of president Fernando Henrique Cardoso aimed to limit consumption to 20% and advised a change of habit, encouragung Brazilians to be more energy efficient.

Since Luiz Incacio Lula da Silva assumed the presidency in 2003, the government revised energy rationing policy. The current president, Dilma Rousseff, then responsible for restructuring the electricity sector in her former role as Minister of Mines and Energy, has restricted herself to simply asking the population to conserve energy.

As well as finding itself confronted with energy problems, Brazil is watching an unprecedented corruption scandal unfold at state-owned oil giant Petrobras, which involved widespread kickbacks to executives and contractors.

The scandal is proving extremely costly and has led to the announcement of a plan to divest US$ 13.7m of its assets. However, there is still no information on which assets will be sold or if they will be sold completely or partially.

Petrobras controls 26 energy plants, powered by natural gas and fuel oil, with a cobned capacity of 7.600MW, “they’re very interesting assets,” says Edvaldo Santana, implying that they might interest Chinese companies looking to expand their portfolios.

But Mello doesn’t agree. At over 10 years old, he says, plants such as the thermoelectric ones are “like used cars,” requiring significant maintenance costs.

 

Sun, wind and water

China’s State Grid already operates significant projects in Brazil,  possessing assets such as the transmission line that will connect the Belo Monte Dam in the north with the high-consuming south east of Brazil.

And China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG) is an indirect  player in Brazil’s EDP Energias do Brazil, taking direct administrative control of some of the company’s power stations, which include wind plants.

Bloomberg reports that the last deal that took place with a Chinese wind power company in Brazil was in 2011, when Sinovel Wind Group signed a deal to supply turbines generating 35MW for Desenvix, the energy arm of Energix Engineering.

Brazil is also looking to diversify its energy matrix and intends to organize seven auctions, which will include an emphasis on photovoltaic solar energy. The first time it negotiated solar energy, the country added a further 1GW, enough to meet the energy needs of around 20 million people.

Contracts will be awarded at a reverse auction – where the beneficiary will be the one offering the lowest cost to the national grid. The starting value is 179 Brazilian Reais per MWh, around US$56 per Mwh.

Chinese companies are also looking at the massive Sao Luis de Tapajos hydroelectric project, in the north of Brazil, one of the largest hydroelectric plants in the country with a capacity of 8,400 MW.

But Mello reminds interested parties that they might need to wait a long time for an environmental permit; the hydroelectric complex is expected to consist of five power stations right in the heart of virgin Amazon forest and indigenous territories.

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