Monday, April 29, 2013

How Brazil is ‘powering up’ its energy sector

It seems that there are plenty of reasons for the international community to keep an eye on what's happening in Brazil at the moment.
Not only is South America's largest economy gearing up to host two of the biggest events in the global sporting calendar, but it is also formulating a plot to muscle in on the big-boys of international politics, and is doing so through one very important mean; energy.
After its discovery of pre-salt reserves off the Atlantic coast, companies from all over the world appear to be falling over each other in an attempt to try and get a piece of the action, and the the lucrative amounts of cash that come with it.
However, the Brazilian government has already shown that is more than capable of handling the power that comes hand-in-hand with the discovery of large amounts of oil.
Brazil has quite a bit of experience when it comes to the energy sector, mainly due to the fact that it has been at the forefront of renewable energy for so long.
Indeed, one of the biggest projects the country has invested in has been towards hydroelectric energy.
At the beginning of the year, hydroelectric power was responsible for generating 67 per cent of the country's electricity.
Reliance on renewable energy
Although its reliance on such technology is admirable from the point of view of an environmentalist, to say there have not been problems would be untrue.
A drought in 2001, meant that many Brazilians had to make the choice of either cutting down their electricity use or risk being cut off completely.
The vulnerability of Brazil's power network resulted in more investment being placed into energy generation.
And such an approach has been needed too, as the amount of electricity consumed by Brazil has increased dramatically in recent years, with 30 million Brazilians being raised out of poverty over the last ten years. Most of these new members of Brazil's swelling middle class are not settling for minimalism either, kitting out their homes with various items and electrical appliances such microwaves, washing machines and air conditioners.
Under the presidency of the popular Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, consumption of electricity shot up by 40 per cent.
As a result, Brazil has overseen the construction of an ambitious project to build bigger hydroelectric dams with smaller reservoirs, such as the one in Belo Monte, in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.
The Jirau dam will span an incredible 8 km across the Madeira river and will also feature more turbines than any other hydroelectric dam in the world. Electricity will then be transmitted through 2,250 km of forest, eventually reaching the country's epicentre of electrical power, Sao Paulo.
Such a gargantuan structure is still not going to be enough to meet the country's increasing demand. The Jirau dam, combined with the San Antonio complex, which is being built downstream will still only cater for five per cent of the the country's energy needs over the next ten years.
Tension rising
Not only that, but there has also been controversy caused over the location of such projects, with many of the Amazon's indigenous tribes voicing their opposition to what they feel is a cultural invasion on the land they hold dear.
Brazil's aggressive pursuit of increasing its hydroelectric output in order to maintain its status as an environmentally-friendly powerhouse has drawn more controversy from those environmentalists themselves, who feel that such a policy is the wrong way of addressing the country's new needs.
Brent Millikan, the Amazon programme director in Brazil for International Rivers, told The Guardian newspaper: "This is a sort of 1950s development mentality that often proceeds in a very authoritarian way, in terms of not respecting human rights, not respecting environmental law, not really looking at the alternatives."
Such alternatives come in various forms, including wind farms, which are beginning to be increasingly popular, and with recent positive results, their use could become even more widespread.
Indeed, the amount of power produced by the country's wind farms over the course of last year exceeded the expectations.
Average efficiency for 2012 was around 54 per cent, 12 per cent higher than the forecasts of experts.
In a telephone interview with Bloomberg, Elbia Mel, president of the Brasileira de Energia Eolica in Sao Paulo, said: "Critics of the sector were justified in their concerns that the wind farms won’t operate at the level they promised, they’re going to operate at a much higher level."
She added that the total amount of wind farms operating across the nation is set to double this year to more than 6,000 megawatts.
Wind power could help Brazil to preserve its status as a main player in renewable energy, but it is not the main factor in allowing it to become one of the biggest on the overall world stage.
The presence of oil reserves has attracted investors from all over the world, all of whom are interested in the opportunities that such a development can offer for companies.
71 national and international companies have filed requests to be given the opportunity to bid for one of the 298 blocks that are currently up for sale.
Scrambling for a piece
Of that number, 64 companies were invited by Brazil's National Petroleum Agency (ANP) to the recent 11th round of bidding, including some of the industry's biggest names, such as Anglo-Dutch Shell, Petronas, Exxonmobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips.
Some of Brazil's most well-known domestic players are also set to assert themselves, including OGX Petróleo e Gás, owned by the country's richest man; billionaire Eike Batista, and the state-owned Petrobras.
Up for grabs at the May auction are 289 blocks, totaling around 155,800 square metres across 11 sedimentary basins across the country.
What's more encouraging for Brazil is that this latest round of auctions is by no means the end of the country's influence over the world's oil companies.
None of the blocks in this summer's auction will be within the country's rich pre-salt layers, which are by far the largest reserves in Brazil.
The ANP claims that around 40 million barrels will be offered to bidding companies in November of this year; an amount that will not even make a small dent on the potential total of 100 billion barrels that could be located underneath.
Petrobras has announced that the discoveries of oil and and gas blocks, combined with their subsequent auctions in May and November, could help the country become oil self-sufficient by the time the first ball of the 2014 World Cup is even kicked.
The company said in a statement: "Beginning in 2014, oil production in Brazil will again reach self-sufficiency, that is, it will produce the same amount of volume of oil that it consumes, taking Petrobras’ production into account, as well as the production of partners and third parties."
That could inevitably mean that the act of exporting oil, a practice that Brazil only started last year, may soon elevate Brazil's international status.
Indeed, the US energy Information Administration in its country analysis for Brazil stated: "Brazil has made great strides in increasing its total energy production, particularly oil and ethanol. Increasing domestic oil production has been a long-term goal of the Brazilian government, and recent discoveries of large offshore, pre-salt oil deposits could transform Brazil into one of the largest oil producers in the world."