Renewable Energy

Got some useful appointments in today.   Our first visit was with a couple of guys at the São Paulo Secretariat of Energy – renewable energy.  We were following up on a successful speaker visit and hoping to strengthen connections and contacts.  Our Brazilian friends were more than eager to do this to our mutual benefit.

Brazil is a leader in various sorts of renewable energy and they have a lot to share, especially in areas like biogas, ethanol, biomass & biodiesel.  Of course, the USA has a lot to share too in some of the same areas, but in addition in areas of storage and energy net coordination.  Mutual sharing means mutual benefit, since more brains are better and when we solve problems in diverse ways, we learn more than if we just have a few options.

Brazil, like the USA, is a continental country.  When talking about renewable power, this brings challenges and opportunity.  Brazil has a lot of wind power potential, for example, but it is poorly distributed, with the best wind power sites in the less populated areas of the Northeast.  Wind (and solar) are also inconsistent.  They need some sort of backup.

Hydroelectric power has been one of the best backups.  Energy can be brought on line (or taken off) easily. There are two developments that have been creating complications. One is that droughts have made hydropower less reliable, even has the capacity of hydropower is being reached.  A related problem is how dams have changed.  In the interests of protecting local ecology, new hydro projects tend to be “run of the river” rather than reservoir based.  A run of the river system, as the name implies, depends on the water running through the river.  River flow varies with the seasons and the weather and more importantly for power storage, it cannot be turned off and on.  The river flows as it wants.

A possible solution is natural gas.  São Paulo currently has no facilities to receive liquified natural gas, but there are three terminals in Brazil (Pecém, State of Ceará; Bahia LNG Regasification Terminal, Bay of All Saints, State of Bahia and Guanabara Bay, State of Rio de Janeiro). Brazil is potentially a big market for America LNG.  We are currently the Brazil’s third largest source of LNG, with great potential for more.  Natural gas is clean burning and gas fired plants can be turned on and off relatively easily.  Most natural gas is currently not renewable.  However, there is great potential for biogas, so building out a natural gas distribution network can transition seamlessly to carry biogas as that develops.

Another “storage” mechanism is the grid itself. A big grid means that power can be moved from places suffering shortages to those with surplus.  The wind may be inconsistent locally, but over a large area it tends to even out.  Couple that with a natural gas/hydro backup, and you have a fairly reliable “battery.”

Energy is something I have been interested in since I was in college.  This discussion was especially interesting for me and it was a joy to take part. It was very easy to see in this an area of mutually benefit. There is something even for those interested only in short term profit, since American LNG will find a good market in Brazil in the short term.  I am more interested in the exchange of ideas.

And I am constantly recalling what Thomas Jefferson said – “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”  If it is not too disrespectful to add to Jefferson, that light travels in both directions.


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