With considerable participation in renewable electricity sources on its energy matrix, Brazil is ranked among the top producers – and consumers – of electricity in the world.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the Balanço Energético Nacional (BEN, or National Energy Balance), Brazil is the 9th largest producer of electricity in the world. The country, by itself, is responsible for 2,6% of global production.
But if the production is vast, consumption is no different. Data from the United Nations’ World Bank shows that Brazil is the 7th largest consumer of electricity in the world.
Unlike other major producers and consumers, such as the United States, Japan and Russia, Brazil’s main source of electricity comes from hydroelectric plants. More traditional sources, like thermoelectricity, have a much smaller participation in the matrix.
Brazil makes good use of its large territory to test different types of electricity production. But if the country is currently one of the top players in this sector, much is due to several hydroelectric plants and other projects being made to improve electricity generation.
Electricity is also an important part in the Brazilian foreign trade scenario. The country receives around 6% of all the electricity imported in the world, only importing less than Germany, United States and Italy. Exports are not as relevant since the largest share of the production is destined for domestic use, Brazil does not feature among the top ten exporters of electricity in the world.
Main electric sources
The main electricity source in Brazil is, as previously mentioned, hydroelectricity. After all, in a country with the world’s largest reserve of freshwater, expectations could be no different.
The generation of electricity in Brazil is shown in the chart below, according to figures by the National Energy Balance:
In absolute numbers, in relation to hydroelectricity production Brazil is only behind China. The most recent data published by the Brazilian government states that nearly 12% of all the hydroelectricity in the world is produced in Brazil.
Natural gas and petroleum derivatives are much small contributors than water-generated electricity, corresponding together to 11,4% of the country’s total production. But Brazilians, of course, use other types of energy other than electricity, and in this scenario, these sources play an important role. Natural gas and petroleum derivatives correspond to 52,1% of the domestic supply, being used mainly to generate energy for vehicles and machines.
While Brazil is not particularly famous for generating nuclear energy, this source is more significant than cheaper and more traditional ones, like coal and wind power. Despite the fact that Brazil is still far from the production of other players, the country – that has only two active reactors and another one in development – obtains almost 3% of its energy from nuclear reactors.
Alternatives being used
Data from the United Nations also showed that, back in 2010, Brazil was ranked 5th out of the countries that invested the most in renewable energy generation, having invested USD 7 billion in that year alone.
Such investment led to an increase in renewable energy production. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, Brazil is currently the 6th largest producer of electricity from renewable resources, even though other sources – such as solar, tidal and geothermal – were not considered when analyzing the Brazilian case.
This can be partly explained by the role hydroelectricity plays in the scenario, but other renewable sources are significant. The major example, after hydroelectricity, is biomass. The use of bagasse, wood and lixívia (which is the water used to wash ashes of burned wood) is responsible for more than 6% of the country’s electricity.
Production per region
The Brazilian production of electricity is concentrated mainly in the southeastern region, but all areas of Brazil have relevance in domestic production.
The share of electricity generation per region in Brazil is ranked as follows:
From the Southeast, the highlights are the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. Not only in terms of the amount of hydroelectric and thermal plants in these states, but some of the largest plants – like the hydroelectric plant from Ilha Solteira – are located in this area.
The reason why the southern region is responsible for nearly a quarter of all the electricity produced in Brazil has one name: Itaipu. This hydroelectric plant, administered jointly with Paraguay, is the largest in Brazil, with a capacity to generate 14 gigawatts.
Other big electricity plants that are responsible for a wide share of national production are spreaded throughout other regions. Tucuruí, the second largest active hydroelectric plant in the country, for example, is located in the North, in the state of Pará, while Xingó and Paulo Afonso IV are in the Northeast.
In relation to the Midwest, nearly half of the electricity produced there comes from a single state: Goiás, mainly because of important hydroelectric plants like Itumbiara and São Simão.
Most upcoming projects in Brazil are related to electricity generated by water power. From 177 projects under construction in 2012 – the year with the most recent available data – there were 48 hydroelectric centres and 11 hydroelectric plants, projecting a capacity to generate around 19 gigawatts. Some of the main highlights are the controversial Belo Monte, to become Brazil’s 2nd largest hydroelectric plant, and São Luiz do Tapajós.
Thermoelectricity comes right after: 38 plants were being constructed in 2012, which together can generate up to 5,3 gigawatts when completed.
When looking at other projects seeking to use renewable energy, wind power is definitely gaining ground. In 2012, a total of 79 wind farms were being built. The generation capacity, of 1,95 gigawatts, might not correspond to what is seen with hydro and thermoelectricity, but efforts with a clean source of energy is noteworthy. Also, most of these works are being placed in the Northeast region whose generation of electricity grows year by year.