Special Interviews
Aug.10, 2023
Vol. 9
Brazil to showcase unique power grid with direct-current transmission running on 45% renewables (mostly hydro)
INRI Solar Technology Test Laboratory Technical Manager Associate Professor Leandro Michels
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Brazil to showcase unique power grid with direct-current transmission running on 45% renewables (mostly hydro)

Did you know that renewable energy provides Brazil with 45% of its electricity? Most comes from hydroelectric power, but the country is also beginning to focus on solar systems and wind power. More importantly, these system are integrated into the existing power grid, which also provides direct-current power transmission lines for a large swath of the country. Brazil faces a unique quandary: how to introduce other renewable energies, such as solar and wind, and connect them to the existing power grid. This is the forte of the Instituto de Redes Inteligentes (INRI). We spoke with Associate Professor Leandro Michels, who will present on the situation in Brazil at RD20 2023. He leads a solar systems technical team at the INRI.

The Instituto de Redes Inteligentes (INRI) is part of the Technology Center at the Federal University of Santa Maria. At the institute, professors, researchers, graduate students, and students take on engineering research projects in the fields of electrical engineering control and automation, telecommunications, aerospace, production technology, and civil engineering.

The INRI, which will present at RD20 2023, has close ties to Brazilian government organizations. Along with supporting the developping regulatory standards, the institute works with the government to develop solar systems for renewable energy and technical requirements for its connection to electrical grid to makes possible its span across all of Brazil. This year, the INRI began collaborative development projects with partners in other countries. Dr. Michels is the leader of Brazil’s standards committee on photovoltaic systems associated to International Electrotecnical Commission (IEC). An upbeat Michels said, “A few months ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Michio Kondo from the Global Zero Emission Research Center (GZR) at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). We discussed the development and commercialization of solar systems in Brazil, which led him to invite me to RD20.”

Solar Technology Test Laboratory
Technical Manager
Associate Professor Leandro Michels

To date, Brazil has not been actively involved in RD20, but the country has been enthusiastically developing energy conversion technologies. According to Michels, however, “Foreign researchers don’t know that Brazil is well-versed in renewable energy. We want to share our knowledge with the rest of the world.”

Brazil has taken a different approach from other countries. The country has been particularly active promoting renewable energy, which accounts for a considerably high share of Brazil’s power, at 45% (Figure 1). This is quite unlike other countries. Michels said he wants everyone to know that Brazil has been especially proactive in integrating solar systems into the power grid.

Figure 1. Renewable Energy Shares and Targets, G20 Countries, 2019 and 2020
Source: International Environment and Economy Institute


Most of Brazil’s renewable energy relies on hydropower, but since sites to build new ones are rare and have high environment impact, the country is trying to keep its electricity matrix majority renewable this with renewable wind and solar, which currently accounts for 18% of Brazil’s electricity. The country uses a small amount of coal but will try to avoid it from now on. Brazil has significantly increased solar power generation capacity, adding more than 11 GW in 2022 alone to bring the total to 30 GW.

Brazil uses renewables for 23% of transportation-related energy. The ratio is 40% for passenger vehicles, which is possible because Brazil almost all internal combustion engine vehicles can also run using ethanol. “Twenty years from now,” Dr. Michels said, “most, if not all, cars in Brazil will use ethanol, including those running on a blend of ethanol and gasoline.” This is viable because Brazil has a long historical effort to produce and distribute ethanol. Nowadays, Brazil mandates to mix of 25% of ethanol in all gasoline that is sell (E25) as well as sells in pure ethanol (E100) all gas stations. On the other hand, for heavy vehicles, Brazil is increasing the use of biodiesel a vegetable-based fuel. Currently Brazil uses a mix of 10% of biodiesel in diesel fuel (B10) and is increasing this year to 12% (B12).

Ethanol fuel produces few carbon emissions. In Brazil, ethanol is made from sugarcane, which absorbs carbon dioxide. The sugarcane is converted into sugar during the ethanol production process.

Brazil is now focusing more on ethanol and batteries. The country is investing in hybrid-fuel vehicles to build and expand its battery infrastructure. An electric vehicle can travel 70 km a day in the city, but longer trips require an ethanol internal combustion engine.

Brazil is also becomes an oil exporter. In 2021, the country recorded $30.5 billion in oil exports, but Michels believes Brazil is decreasing the dependency on them.

Brazil, which also imports fertilizer, produces food and ethanol. Now the country is trying to generate renewable energy and produce hydrogen from wind and solar power. Ideas are emerging for ways to make hydrogen from power plants, ammonia from hydrogen, and then manufacture fertilizer. The hydrogen would be for domestic consumption. Since Brazil has abundant sunlight, it could both produce food and energy at the same time.

Discussion on Brazil’s unique problems at RD20 2023

Michels said that integrating renewable energy with the power grid, a subject of his research and an issue Brazil faces, will be a major theme. Brazil’s electricity situation is quite different from other countries. Hydroelectric power generates a large amount of Brazil’s electricity, and due this many electricity must be transmitted over long distances. This is why Brazil uses direct-current transmission, which experiences little loss. All a large city like Sao Paulo needs is a nearby power plant, but due to brazilian renewable generation matrix a large amount of power is transmitted over thousands of kilometers, which requires relay points in a cascade connection. The greater the transmission distance, the more difficult it is to ensure a stable supply of power. Therefore, Brazil must make its power generation system more robust, while being properly controlled to provide a stronger and more stable supply and prevent power outages.

That is why, according to Michels, “We want to have more discussions with researchers from other countries about stable power distribution. We want to know how to solve this problem. We also want to find solutions for converting power from solar panels to the grid. Renewable energy is inherently variable, so we want to have discussions with everyone and talk about technologies to provide a reliable, stable supply. Brazil is facing these problems, and we want to tell people that.”

Another issue, which is not limited to Brazil, is storage batteries. Michels will discuss how to support a stable power grid and storage batteries, as well as what knowledge is required to use both in the power grid and the strategies to obtain that knowledge. He would also like to hear other countries’ opinions on floating solar. There is interest in using Brazil’s many lakes for floating photovoltaic panels. That will drive a strong need for clean batteries, clean energy, and control technology.

Brazil is an enormous country consisting of three main regions. The largest is the northern region, which is home to the sparsely populated Amazon rainforest. There is few private land and few food production. Second is the northest region, with large arid place with a semi-desertic climate. However, the sushine makes it a favorable location for solar energy as well as have one of worldwide largests potentials of wind. Due this, in this region where is most of Brazilian wind and solar production. The most fertile land runs from the central to the southern regions, where thriving agriculture produces a great quanitity of food for people and feed for livestock. In this region is also produced the majority of Brazilian biofuels. However, the central-southern region is inconsistent, having a mix of wet and dry years. Food and biofuels are affected by harvests with yields that vary from year to year. Therefore, Brazil is focusing on irrigation to make harvests more consistent in dry seasons. This requires energy, so a stable power supply is crucial. Many farms have been using diesel generators, but they emit CO, CO2, and other environmentally harmful substances. Therefore, it is critical that agriculture makes the switch to renewable energy.

Asked about his expectations for RD20, Michels answered enthusiastically, “I want to learn a lot from researchers from G20 countries. We will share knowledge and build networks by talking in person. I also want to build a framework for international cooperation.”

Kenji Tsuda, Editor-in-Chief, Semiconductor Portal