The Rio Olympics opening ceremony put climate change in the spotlight, but will Brazil follow it up by committing to solar power?
Apart from Gisele Bundchen’s comically long walk through the stadium to The Girl from Ipanema, the best part of the Rio opening ceremony, for me, was seeing climate change highlighted to a global audience of 3 billion viewers.
Arguably the message could have focused more on a positive vision of a green future. The future is bright for sustainable energy in Brazil – particularly when it comes to the untapped potential of solar.
Solar in Brazil
70% of Brazil’s energy comes from large hydro power installations, according to the Brazilian electricity regulatory agency. Although hydro has helped in providing near-universal energy access – a remarkable feat for a developing nation – droughts in recent years have caused problems with supply, and the government is looking to other sources of energy. Solar currently makes up only 0.02% of energy supply, despite Brazil being one of the most sun-drenched nations on Earth. This figure is slowly improving; in 2014, the Brazilian government auctioned contracts which will eventually increase solar to 3% of the country’s energy mix.
Investment in large-scale solar is important, but recent regulation changes have opened the door to smaller projects which could transform Brazil’s energy supply, put more power in the hands of the consumers, and provide energy to poor areas, like the favelas in Rio, where electricity is often scarce. In the light of the current corruption scandal surrounding the Brazilian energy giant Petrobras, transferring energy power into the hands of smaller enterprises must be a good thing.
Ashden Award winner Enertiva has pioneered small-scale solar in Latin America, with a solar thermal water heater designed for use in dairies. The heater pays for itself in one year, and has been taken up by 10% of Costa Rica’s dairy farms. As the world’s 6th largest dairy producer, Brazil offers huge potential for expansion of Enertiva’s model, as well as other applications of their solar thermal technology.
A barrier to solar is that investors are wary about giving money to energy projects in the developing world. Ashden award winner SunFunder is a for-profit organisation which links investors and solar projects, and has so far facilitated $12.9m of sustainable energy for communities and businesses.
Unlike many countries, Brazil offers no subsidies for solar power. If the government is serious about making the most of its plentiful solar resource, it has to increase the availability of loans to smaller initiatives and subsidise solar energy production. If the government takes such positive steps, then small-scale solar power will take off in Brazil and fulfil the promise of the Rio Games.