For President of EPE, Brazil will be the environmental and energetic power of the 21st century

Comments Off | 11-29-2011

With continental proportions and privileged with abundant natural resources, Brazil is capable of becoming both an energy and environmental power. According to the President of the Energy Research Company (EPE), Maurício Tolmasquim, the country’s energy mix will remain essentially clean, with low carbon emissions, while the export of oil extracted from new reserves will help to supply the international market. In this interview, Tolmasquim presents figures that support the development of Brazil anchored on low emission energy generation.

You have said that Brazil will be the energy and environmental power of the 21st century. Could you explain for us how this is possible?

Brazil has discovered huge reserves of oil at a moment when its renewable energy resources have their best structural conditions for competitiveness. Wind power is growing in a sustainable manner. Hydroelectric power also. Ethanol has historically been proven to be more sustainable and competitive than petroleum derivatives. Therefore, Brazil will be the energy and environmental power of the 21st century because its energy potential will be a key factor in international security of supply. The economy will grow in an ambiance that respects contracts, a region that has no conflicts, where competition is democratic and the oil is of good quality. This will provide stability to world oil production. Brazil will contribute to this, while at the same time maintaining one of the cleanest energy matrices in the world, with low greenhouse gas emissions.

So, the fact that Brazil has become a major oil producer does not mean it will no longer have a clean energy matrix?

Certainly not. Brazil will continue to have one of the cleanest energy matrices in the world. First, with regard to the electrical system, oil is not a competitive source in relation to other energy sources available in Brazil, such as hydroelectricity and wind power, which are renewable, or alternative, and much cleaner and cheaper. As for transportation, ethanol is proving more competitive than gasoline in structural terms. With the exception of a recent problem with the sugarcane harvest, the historic participation of ethanol as the fuel of choice of owners of flex cars is approximately 70%. In general terms, the fact that there is more oil available does not signify a proportional increase in oil consumption. Brazil will be the first major oil exporter with a clean internal energy matrix. It is a unique case in the world.

What is the size of the car fleet in Brazil using flex technology? Will it tend to increase in coming years?

Brazil currently has a fleet of around 28 million light vehicles, and it is estimated that we will have more than 50 million in 2020. Currently 49% of them are flex, or 14 million cars. We estimate that in 2020 almost 80% of light vehicles will be flex, and the proportion of ethanol consumption will continue at historical levels. Brazil therefore estimates that ethanol production will grow from the current 27 billion liters to as much as 70 billion liters in ten years.

These numbers signify expanding sugar cane cultivation. Is the increase in ethanol production sustainable?

The Ministry of Agriculture has undertaken agricultural zoning which only allows sugar cane to be planted in areas deemed viable for its cultivation. This excludes biomas such as the Pantanal and the Amazon. Brazil would need about 7 million hectares to reach the target of 70 billion liters. Considering only marginal agricultural areas, Brazil has 90 million hectares. The country also has 220 million hectares of pasture used predominantly for cattle ranching, with an average of one head of cattle per hectare. In São Paulo, the average is 1.3 head of cattle per hectare. If all Brazil had the same average as São Paulo, the country could maintain the same herd and liberate 70 million hectares, or ten times the area needed for sugarcane. In short, Brazil has sufficient land area to achieve the ethanol production target without threatening the Amazon and without harming food production.

Can bagasse waste from sugar cane also be used in energy production?

Yes. Bagasse waste is also used to generate electricity. We have another goal, to generate renewable energy with low carbon, and bagasse is one of the most important elements, with the installation of thermal power plants at the sugar mills that use bagasse as feedstock. The State of São Paulo has a goal to mechanize the cane harvest by 2014, a factor that will result in more biomass for electricity generation.

It is clear that the country has goals for the future. And for the present, what is the situation with Brazil’s energy matrix?

It is in a privileged position in the global context. The energy sector represents 65% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and in some countries this figure exceeds 80%. In Brazil the energy sector accounts for only 16% of emissions. As such, the energy sector has very little impact on the country’s total emissions. The main reason for this is the participation of renewable sources in the Brazilian energy matrix. If we look exclusively at power generation, Brazil’s situation is even better. Worldwide, only 18% of electricity generation comes from renewable sources, while in Brazil this figure is 87%.

How important is hydroelectric power generation to the objectives of keeping the matrix clean?

Hydro electricity has a very low emission level, and Brazil has the third largest hydroelectric potential in the world, behind China and Russia. Brazil uses just one third of its potential. Two-thirds have not yet been used. About 60% of what remains to be utilized is located in the Northern region of the country, a region with a very rich ecosystem with rich biodiversity, it is a natural heritage that Brazil must preserve. Our point of view is that it is possible to utilize part of our hydroelectric potential in this region and preserve the Amazon ecosystem.

How is this preservation possible?

The hydroelectric dams that are planned to be built in the Amazon would occupy less than 1% of the bioma. In addition, the hydroelectric power plants currently in planning provide a way to preserve the environment and local social development. This is because the dams are designed without large reservoirs, submerging a small area. And they include obligation to invest heavily in environmental protection, such as the restoration of degraded riverbank areas and the ongoing maintenance of new conservation units.

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Posted in FDI Brazil statistics, General |

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