Infrastructure for electrical transportation in Brazil

Even with an inexpressive number of vehicles, electric transport has already found their place in the mass transportation system in major cities in the country.

Brazil is one of the countries with the largest potential for electric transportation, since the methods used for electricity generation in Brazil are considered to be sustainable and clean with hydroelectrics and the growth of eolic turbines deployments. The matter of electric transportation is being extensively discussed among specialists who already see the Brazilian market as one of the main hubs for this type of transportation in the near future, especially when it comes to electricity-powered cars. Although still very timid, the market is already seeing growth due to a few investments in the infrastructure for some types of transportation such as trains and subways.

Electric vehicles may be seen as a revolution, but they have been available in the global market for quite a while. The price for the technology and its efficiency are still some of the main reasons it is taking a little longer to be adopted by consumers of automotives and bicycles. In Brazil, trains and subways stand as the main types of vehicles powered by electricity and are present in the largest capitals.

In order to widely adopt this model, Brazilian authorities must invest in the basic infrastructure, and this matter is not merely summarized by the installation of charging posts. The power grid of the country is almost operating above its capacity, especially due to the shortage of rain in some areas around the hydroelectric reservoirs and lack of investments. When considering that only the substitution of the entire car fleet in Brazil for electricity-powered automotive cars, it is estimated that the electrical power consumption would rise around 33%. According to research, the power grid as of today, could easily handle the substitution of up to 32% of the fleet.

The adoption of electric vehicles would also have a significant impact on the carbon footprint, decreasing oil-based fuels usage in almost 41%. Since Brazil is highly dependent on highway transportation, as they transport more than 60% of the country’s freight, the change in the fuel matrix would represent improvements in environmental sustainability and air quality, especially in cities like São Paulo, which suffer from high air pollution rates.

Electric cars being recharged at a BR gas station.

Electric Vehicles Operating in Brazil

The urgent need for a sustainable way of living in large cities is pointing to a larger adoption for efficient and electricity-powered vehicles. These projects include the construction of bicycle paths and the diversification of the mass transportation system with the introduction of hybrid buses, light rail vehicles, monorails, subway and train grid expansion, among others. Such projects can be found in their initial phases in cities such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Curitiba and Goiânia.

Still a Long Way to Go

One of the main reasons for the delay in the advances of the electric car industry, which is not widely discussed, is the fact that the Federal government is currently focusing on ethanol production, which was largely adopted in cars, and the Pré-Sal oil extraction operation. Fuel producers and the government are concerned with the impending competition between the sources of energy, which led to the unveiling of the electric car as a complement and not a substitute for the current model.

Electric cars represent only 0.04% of the national fleet, although the adoption rate is expected to grow in the near future. In 2014, 855 new vehicles were licensed in the country, almost 50% more than the previous year, which included hybrid cars. Between 2012 and 2015 around 1,800 cars were licensed in the country.

There are currently 153 recharging plants operating in Brazil as pilot projects, and only 2 are available for public use in the city of Campinas as a property of CPFL Energia. The company also partnered with Rede Graal, a restaurant/convenience store chain located within gas stations in order to implement recharging stations at their facilities. Most of Rede Graal stores are located on the highway that connects Campinas to the city of São Paulo. Only recent projects use the express charging process, which is capable of recharging 80% of a battery in half an hour, but only for vehicles with the Type 2 charging plug. Even with the investment, the stations are still far from attending the demand of the market.

As for electric bicycles, they are rarely found on Brazilian streets. There are numerous reasons, but the main one is probably the fact that not so long ago the legislation for them was not specific, imposing burdening taxes and some unnecessary obligations for users. Only in December of 2013 were similar regulations to the ones for regular bicycles applied to them. Even though they are recent in Brazil, electrical bicycles are expected to increase adoption following the wave of alternative mobility options in the largest cities.

Since bicycles use a different system for recharging their batteries, they demand another kind of project. In order to recharge them a common plug is required, usually used on most electronic devices. In Brazil, there are a few small charging totens being deployed in strategic places in major cities, with charging times ranging from 2 to 4 hours. São Paulo deployed its first stations inside the Market Place Shopping, and it is expected to expand to other shopping malls in the city. The city of Vitória also has charging stations, but only for recharging the 45 bikes used by the police.

On the Right Track

Urban trains and subways are by far the most relevant and widely used electric vehicles in Brazil. In the last ten years, BRL 1.5 billion was invested in railroads, and together they transported around 2 billion passengers each year, 90% of which are located in the state capitals of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Nowadays, the national urban railroad grid consists of 1000 km of lines and 17 systems of urban trains and subways. Both systems usually operate connecting the city center to suburban neighbourhoods, where the majority of the population are located.

One of the main concerns for the increase in electricity powered rail transportation is the capacity of urban grids, since these systems usually demand a lot of energy. The subway system of São Paulo alone, the largest in the country, consumes 500 GWh per year. The city registered a growth of 2 million to 4 million passengers per day on the subway system in a decade and from 800 thousand to 2.5 million in trains.

The rail grid system is not only growing, but being diversified in Brazil. Also in São Paulo, an electricity based monorail started operating in 2014. Other major cities in the country are deploying the LRV system to diminish the burden on the mass transportation.

The Fate of Electric Buses

The first electric bus system in Brazil was implemented in São Paulo in 1949. After that, 15 cities around the country also implemented the system, although after a few years, only 2 remained. Even though it was practically extinct back in 2002, the electric buses returned to the city of São Paulo recently with new investments and vehicle upgrades, however only 40% of the original grid is still operational. The city of Santos holds the other system, with only one line in operation.

In 2014, a hybrid bus developed by the Brazilian company Eletra using national technology, operating also with imported batteries from Mitsubishi, started running in experimental tests in the city of São Paulo. It is expected that they will start operating commercially in 2016 at the ABD Bus Corridor, with autonomy for 200 km.

Innovation Norway is responsible for promoting the Norwegian industry abroad. Our office in Rio de Janeiro manages Innovation House Rio, our business incubator office, and helps Norwegian companies in their efforts towards the Brazilian market.

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Posted in Energy & Environment

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