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Brazil to press ahead with CSP pilot programme

Brazil is pressing ahead with experimental concentrating solar power (CSP) projects and has started studies to include the technology in competitive tenders.

Later this week the country’s power regulator should confirm the five consortia that were selected in the CSP R&D programme launched in 2015, which aims to have experimental plants built by 2020, and promote expertise and technology transfer.

At the time, 28 groups declared initial interest but several of them joined forces. The selected companies include federal power companies Chesf and Eletrosul, state oil company Petrobras, the Termopernambuco gas-fired power plant owned by Iberdrola’s local venture Neoenergia, and São Paulo’s state power company Cesp.

The programme – which requires power companies to invest 0,4% of their annual net revenues in R&D – has been used by the government in recent years to help introduce new power technologies in the country and to prepare the ground for their commercial implementation.

In 2011, for example, the solar PV programme, which resulted in a handful of small experimental solar plants including stadiums for the 2014 world cup, helped the country to prepare its first successful solar PV tender in the same year.

But now the time lag between the experimental phase and the inclusion of CSP in tender processes could be shorter.

“We are already talking to the federal electricity planning authority (EPE) about the possibility of a tender to contract firm capacity, which would allow CSP to compete with thermal plants, solar PV with batteries, and even reversible hydro plants,” said Tina Maria Ziegler of the German international development agency Giz, one of the co-ordinators in the Brazilian CSP programme.

With irradiation that peaks at 5MWh per square metre in the Northeast region, Brazil is looking to CSP to help diversify its power mix further after introducing wind and PV. Currently hydro accounts for 70%, polluting thermoelectricity for 20% and wind for about 5% of the total. According to estimates by Giz, just 0.5% of the Northeast’s area could generate 600 terawatt hours a year using CSP.

“This is an estimate that needs to be detailed to identify the feasible potential and it’s something that we are doing with state governments,” she said.

While companies have been preparing to participate in the R&D programme, the science and technology ministry has fomented local universities and some companies to develop the technology locally which, according to Ziegler, could help speed its implementation in Brazil.

She believes that Brazil has the needed industrial base to quickly develop the technology at competitive prices.

“Around the world the CSP prices have come in as low and $0.14/kWh but this varies according to local [supply] chain context,” she said.

Brazil’s diverse industrial base could easily supply steel tubing, mirrors and even the steam turbines which are already produced locally for gas-fired plants.

So far there is one commercial project already being planned by Chesf, a 50MW plant in the country’s Northeastern region which has entered the feasibility studies phase.

If successful, Brazil’s CSP programme could catch up with Chile’s, the only other country that is investing in the technology through commercial projects being developed by the US’s Solar Reserve and Spain’s Abengoa.

However, there is much needed to be done, including preparing adequate environmental guidelines and making the public understand how CSP differs from solar PV projects.

“CSP plants are large 100MW, 150MW projects which really have an impact in the local community. So we need to develop this know-how also,” said Ziegler.

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