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Bioelectricity in Brazil reaches equivalent of one Belo Monte dam in installed capacity

A new benchmark was reached in November of 2013 in terms of energy generated from biomass in Brazil. The energy source reached a total of 11,250 MW of installed capacity (via 474 mills in operation), a number that surpasses the projected capacity for 2019 at the Belo Monte dam, estimated at 11,223 MW. In terms of potential, Belo Monte will be the third largest hydroelectric facility in the world, behind China's Three Gorges plant (22,400 MW) and the Itaipú plant (14,000 MW), on the tri-border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

According to Bioelectricity Manager at the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA), Zilmar Souza, this demonstrates the potential of biomass in general, particularly the bagasse and straw at sugarcane processing mills. “The new level achieved is a source of pride, but we cannot commemorate as we would like because we still have doubts regarding the long-term outlook and the advancement of this energy source in Brazil's electricity matrix. Biomass already is strategic for the Brazilian matrix, but we still have a lot of potential to move forward,” Souza said.

According to the National Electrical Energy Agency (ANEEL), sugarcane biomass is the main source of cogeneration in the country, with 9,180 MW (81.6% of the total), followed by black liquor, a residue from the pulp and paper industry which represents 1,530 MW (13.6% of the total). The remaining installed capacity from biomass sources is filled by generation via wood chips, biogas, elephant grass, palm kernel oil, vegetable charcoal and rice husks.

Figures from ANEEL show that total generation capacity in Brazil is currently 133,848 MW, with thermo-electric and biomass sources in general, with 11,250 MW in operation, representing more than 8% of the entire Brazilian matrix. This puts biomass in third place, behind only hydroelectric plants and natural gas.

According to the Chamber of Electrical Energy Sales (CCEE), bioelectricity in general offered by the electricity sector in August of this year represented 5.3% of all electricity consumed in Brazil, precisely in the critical period for the system, that is, the so-called dry period, from April through November.

Souza believes it’s possible to go beyond this already significant contribution since, according to the Ministry of Mines and Energy’s Energy Research Agency (EPE), the technical potential to supply the grid with cane-generated bioelectricity, by 2022, will reach 14 GW on average. This is equivalent to three times the hydroelectric power to be produced at Belo Monte.

A Belo Monte ... and now?

With the new benchmark reached in terms of capacity and the potential to install twice or even three times as much energy as Belo Monte, the question becomes how to promote new investments in this important renewable source. “We need not only to recognize the potential of this source, but also to track the signals that can transform this potential into effective installed capacity, in the event that the average 14 GW estimated by the government isn't accomplished by 2022,” Souza said.

Fomenting bioelectricity, he adds, requires recognizing the correct price in regulated auctions conducted by the federal government, which consider the benefits that this source represents for the electric system. “It’s necessary to refine the pricing model of regulated auctions, to incorporate the positive impacts not only of biomass but of other sources as well, which would certainly promote the development of bioelectricity in the Brazilian electric matrix,” Souza said.

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