Huge solar plant aims for brighter Brazil energy output

November 10, 2017 by Louis Genot
The EDF Energies Nouvelles solar plant in Pirapora, Minas Gerais state, Brazil, will be Latin America's largest solar power faci
The EDF Energies Nouvelles solar plant in Pirapora, Minas Gerais state, Brazil, will be Latin America's largest solar power facility when it is fully operational in 2018

Brazil has lagged far behind in the shift to solar power, but the continent's biggest facility now being built in the south-east aims to give the country its place in the sun.

The plant in Pirapora, in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais, has 1.2 million , covering the equivalent of more than 1,200 soccer fields.

It first began producing power in September, with the second of three phases in the project going online this Thursday.

The whole thing, operated by French energy giant EDF Energies Nouvelles, should be operational before the second quarter of 2018, boasting a capacity of 400 megawatts. That's enough to meet the annual demand of 420,000 households.

"It's a key project of exceptional dimensions at a location that has the advantage of being flat, with little vegetation, a lot of sun, and proximity to a high voltage transmission line," said Paulo Abranches, EDF EN chief executive officer for Brazil.

The site, sprawling over 1,977 acres (800 hectares) north of the state capital Belo Horizonte, appears to be a natural setting for capturing the sun. The little vegetation that grows has been parched, while visitors are told to wear protective leg gear against the danger of snake or spider bites.

Propped several feet (1.2 meters) off the ground, the solar panels pivot with the sun, horizontal at midday and tilting with the changing angles. Even on cloudy days they still produce, though losing about 30 percent of output.

Built locally

EDF EN holds 80 percent of the Pirapora plant and Canadian Solar Inc the other 20 percent in a project with an estimated investment of more than two billion reais ($610 million).

The panels were all built by Canadian Solar at a Sao Paulo factory.

That cost "30 to 40 percent more" than the equivalent in China, Abranches says. But local production was the key requirement for the plant receiving a 529 million reais loan from Brazil's BNDES development bank—about half the investment poured into the first phase of the project.

The other two phases are awaiting loans.

Only 0.2 percent of Brazil's electricity production currently comes from solar, according to government figures
Only 0.2 percent of Brazil's electricity production currently comes from solar, according to government figures

Marcos Cardoso, who is in charge of energy projects at BNDES, said is "an absolute priority" for Brazil if it is to meet its Paris climate accord goals of making 45 percent of all energy renewable by 2030.

Only 0.2 percent of electricity production comes from solar presently, according to figures in August from the energy ministry.

"Brazil has just begun to catch up after a 15-year delay in this area," said Rodrigo Sauaia, president of the Brazilian Solar Energy Association.

With solar panel prices constantly falling—about 10 percent of what they were a decade ago—the race to make up that lost ground is well underway.

"The fact that this is the first project using panels built locally also contributes to the development of this technology in Brazil," Sauaia said.

Sunshine isn't enough

As a huge tropical country, Brazil might be thought to have a big advantage in that the most important element—sunshine—is plentiful. But that's not enough.

"There's far more sun than in a country like Germany, for example, but they're a good deal more advanced," said Mauro Lerer, an engineer at Solarize, which offers training in the sector in Rio de Janeiro.

"There's a lack of interest from the government, which continues to focus on oil" and doesn't offer enough incentives to solar entrepreneurs, he said.

"They should reduce taxes to stimulate investment. Many want to get into solar, including private companies, but can't afford it," he added.

Bruno Fyot, chief operating officer of EDF EN, said renewables will take off.

"In Brazil you have good wind and you have sun... (and) long-term growth in demand for electricity."

Explore further: Brazil uses dammed lake surface for floating solar panels

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Eikka
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 10, 2017
a capacity of 400 megawatts. That's enough to meet the annual demand of 420,000 households.


No it isn't. First of all, that's less than a kilowatt per household to start with, and secondly, the actual year-round average capacity of a 400 MWp solar PV plant in Brazil is closer to 60 MW which would be just 150 Watts per household or 1,300 kWh a year. You can barely run a fridge on that amount.

Solar power capacity is quoted at peak output, but the capacity factor over a year cannot be higher than 50% even in theory, because half the day it's night and the sun doesn't shine. Of the daylight hours, again about half the time the sun is high enough to produce significant power, so 25%, and of that amount about half the time the sun is either low or blocked by clouds and shadows, or dirt on the panel, leading to capacity factors between 10-15% in the typical case.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 10, 2017
The average household electricity consumption in Brazil is 1,834 kWh/year, largely because of the massive differences between rural and urban power consumption. The rural areas contribute only 6% to the electricity demand, so a huge portion of the population essentially uses no electricity even if they technically have access to it.
PeterPiker
3 / 5 (1) Nov 10, 2017
Based on solar radiation data from 5 sites in Minas Gerais, Brazil, at similar latitudes to Pirapora (17.3 degrees), the average daily solar power received is over 5.5 kW/ sq.meter. So, in this region, a 400 MWp solar plant in this region would have an output of over 90 MW, which would be about 220 watts per household or over 1,900 kWh per year, more if one assumes that the solar panels are tilted at latitude towards the sun.

My data came from Table 4 of the following report.

https://www.alice...ment.pdf
Da Schneib
2.5 / 5 (2) Nov 10, 2017
@Eikka is denying again. Using its own numbers.

Here's how: let's say the 1,834 kWh/year average Brazilian household gets 1,300 kWh/year as stated. Now, they pay lower price for 1,300 kWh and higher price for only 500 kWh. That happens for 400,000 households.

This is bad?

For the fossil fuel utility who gets paid for 500 kWh instead of 1,800 maybe. Not for any of the households. But they're only brown people anyway, right @Eikka?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Nov 10, 2017
Just to put this in perspective, if one profiles these households as nuclear families then we are talking about radically reducing electrical rates for a million people and making less global warming to do it.

This is what renewables do. Sorry your dirty unethical fossil fuel stocks are going down. Sell them and get over it. Buy some renewable stocks, @Eikka.
Whydening Gyre
not rated yet Nov 10, 2017
Just to put this in perspective, if one profiles these households as nuclear families then we are talking about radically reducing electrical rates for a million people and making less global warming to do it.

This is what renewables do. Sorry your dirty unethical fossil fuel stocks are going down. Sell them and get over it. Buy some renewable stocks, @Eikka.

On another note - pot stocks are doing pretty good...
WillieWard
2.7 / 5 (3) Nov 11, 2017
"In Brazil you have good wind and you have sun... (and) long-term growth in demand for electricity."
Except that the Sun doesn't shine 24h a day; when energy is most needed(at night) it's fossil plants that keep lights on, mainly during prolonged droughts.
"With solar panel prices constantly falling—about 10 percent of what they were a decade ago..."
Fossil-fueled backup plants are never included in the total costs.
"The site, sprawling over 1,977 acres (800 hectares)..."
Cutting down rainforest trees, displacing native fauna, to make room for solar farms, is so "Eco-friendly".
eric_in_chicago
not rated yet Nov 12, 2017
solar through molten salt is better.
Eikka
2.7 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2017
the average daily solar power received is over 5.5 kW/ sq.meter. So, in this region, a 400 MWp solar plant in this region would have an output of over 90 MW


You forgot to add the angle of incidence effect for solar panels, which reduces output when the sun is at an off-angle to the center. If the panels are not continuously tracking, you lose about 25%.

@Eikka is denying again.


That's a completely different argument that I didn't even comment on. The point I was making is that the article is presenting false information: the solar powerplant is not meeting the annual demand of 420,000 households.

And you're ignoring the fact that the average household demand figure is misleading, because so many households in Brazil use little to no electricity, while urban households use lots more.

You might as well go to the deepest reaches of the jungle and note that nobody uses any electricity, so a single solar panel is able to provide it all!
Eikka
2.7 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2017
then we are talking about radically reducing electrical rates for a million people


You're also begging the question that the solar panels are actually providing cheaper electricity than any of the alternatives.

This is what renewables do.


Simply asserting things don't make them true.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2017
Let's analyze:

The project costs $610 million. Assume 3% yearly maintenance and upkeep cost over 30 years, and the final price will be $1.16 billion.

Meanwhile the powerplant output sums up to 15 768 000 MWh at 60 MW average output. That is 16 million MWh for 1160 million dollars, or $73 per MWh.

As a producer price, that's not cheap. Brazil actually has one of the cheapest producer prices of electricity worldwide because they have an abundance of hydroelectric power (80% of supply), but their retail prices are one of the highest because the country is large and underdeveloped in many places, and the transmission is costly.

Furthermore, as the country is developing, the average per capita consumption is expected to rise to 2,527 kWh/a. That's per person, not per household.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2017
The main problem in Brazil is the periodic droughts that cause the electricity prices to shoot up, since they need to import liquid gas and coal to run thermal powerplants. Electricity prices can vary by 2-5x year to year depending on water availability, which is the problem of relying on so much hydroelectric power.

So while diversifying the mix with solar energy would ease this variability by saving water, it's not exactly cheap. It's just cheaper than importing coal and petroleum, or having rolling blackouts when the rivers run low. At other times, the market price is too low to make solar power profitable, so it has to be subsidized, which means the real price of electricity goes up.
Eikka
3 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2017
Now, they pay lower price for 1,300 kWh and higher price for only 500 kWh. That happens for 400,000 households.


That's also not how the electric grid works. You can't make the solar electrons go to the poor households exclusively, and 60 MW average output in a grid with a total average demand of 60,000 MW doesn't really show up much in the first place.

The electricity rates for the poorer rural areas in Brazil are already state subsidized and controlled through government-owned utilities anyhow, so the solar power makes no difference.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Nov 12, 2017
then we are talking about radically reducing electrical rates for a million people


You're also begging the question that the solar panels are actually providing cheaper electricity than any of the alternatives.
They don't require fuel.

On Earth.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Nov 12, 2017
And BTW you obviously also don't understand accounting.
Da Schneib
4 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2017
@Eikka hates renewables and makes up all sorts of specious arguments, like ignoring accounting and "forgetting" solar panels don't use fuel, in order to try to dis them.

It's pretty amusing to watch.
6scans
1 / 5 (1) Nov 12, 2017
Eikka, I gave you a 5 star rating but it looks like it's only showing up as 1 star. So, just wanted to let you know

Peter Piker, am I reading that you're saying t "the average daily solar power received is over 5.5 kW/ sq.meter"???."

So, in your calculations, over the course of a day, each Sq. Meter is receiving 132 kWh/day.(5.5kW times 24 hours)

Wow! never heard that before. Not even close. So, in that case, a 25% efficient panel, over 1 sq meter would give me 33kWh/day. Holy smokes. We've solved the problems then. In fact, this is so amazing that ONE PV panel in this location provides the equivalent power as an intercontinental jet flight.

It's amazing too because here in Atlanta the good ole sun gives us only about 180w per sq. meter. WHile not phoenix, Atlanta is pretty sunny. Yet, with my 15% efficient PV panels I'm only able to muster about .5 kWh/day on average per panel.

Man, we've got to tell people about this!

6scans
not rated yet Nov 12, 2017
In fact, I calculate about 40watts per sq. meter during PEAK capacity. Just as an FYI. I highly, HIGHLY SUSPECT, real world will be about half that. So, 20 watts per sq. meter.

This is real back of the envelope numbers. Take the 400MW times by 1 million equals 400million watts

Divide by the total space alloted about 86 million square feet. 10 sq. feet to 1 sq. meter and voila!

feel free to tear apart the numbers if you want. I'm fine with that, again, back of the envelope.

Nothing wrong with that. But let's be realistic please.
Da Schneib
4.5 / 5 (2) Nov 12, 2017
Irradiance power at the Earth's surface is 1.1 kW/m². That means energy is 1.1 kWh/(h x m²). Half of the time, the Sun isn't visible, so that would be 650 Wh/(h x m²) averaged over the full day and at 20% efficiency that would be 130 Wh/(h x m²), times 24 hours (remember we already factored out half the hours!) we get 3.12 kWh/(day x m²). At 25% efficiency (which is pretty high), it comes out to 162 Wh/(h x m²) and that's 3.9 kWh/(day x m²). I think that's a pretty optimistic figure; I doubt 5.5 kWh/(day x m²). On the other hand, 40 Wh/(h x m²) looks really low to me. Show your work! I showed mine. You can look up solar irradiance power on Wikipedia.
leetennant
5 / 5 (3) Nov 12, 2017
"In Brazil you have good wind and you have sun... (and) long-term growth in demand for electricity."
Except that the Sun doesn't shine 24h a day; when energy is most needed(at night) it's fossil plants that keep lights on, mainly during prolonged droughts.
"With solar panel prices constantly falling—about 10 percent of what they were a decade ago..."
Fossil-fueled backup plants are never included in the total costs.
"The site, sprawling over 1,977 acres (800 hectares)..."
Cutting down rainforest trees, displacing native fauna, to make room for solar farms, is so "Eco-friendly".


Strip mining, in comparison, is beeeaaauuutiful.

If only "batteries" and a "grid" existed. Only then would this renewables nonsense makes sense.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Nov 12, 2017
As far as cutting down rainforest trees, seems like this is another specious argument; the site isn't rainforest.

Just sayin'.

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