São Paulo looks to small wind-solar-hydro hybrids

With relatively small wind potential and expensive real estate, Brazil’s most industrialised state of São Paulo wants to catch a ride on the growing wind industry by reviving the small turbine industry for wind-solar-hydro hybrid set ups.

“This is the way forward, because we have to think about smart grids and small- and micro-generation in the state,” the state’s renewable energy secretary Antonio Celso de Abreu Junior tells Recharge.

The state-controlled power company Cesp invested R$31m ($10m) in a pilot hybrid system located at the 1.5GW Sergio Motta dam, which connects an onshore 500kW solar plant of various technologies, a floating 50kW solar plant, and two small 100kW wind turbines.

Although the solar pilot plants were built last year, the wind turbines were assembled and connected last week.

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The project was developed to comply with the power regulator Aneel’s research and development programme, under which power companies have to invest 0,4% of their net revenues in innovative schemes.

In recent years, Aneel has been promoting research over hybrids and storage and has received 29 proposals for projects to study power storage to support mostly renewables in Brazil, with total investments of R$558m.

The most well-known pilot wind-solar hybrid project that doesn’t involve storage is CPFL Energia’s 1MW Tanquinho project, which is combined with one small wind turbine to appraise the complementarity between the two technologies.

“For now we don’t have a technology for batteries, so we are using hydro-dam reservoirs as a form of power storage,” says the government official.

São Paulo accounts for about 25% total power demand in Brazil and its 23GW capacity is mostly hydro (65%), followed by biomass from sugar cane bagasse (25%) and fossil-fuel thermoelectric power plants (10%).

But a recently revised wind power atlas showed that the state has a 5GW wind power potential, because of slower winds compared to the country’s wind districts in the South and Northeast – 6m/s vs 8-11m/s respectively – and relatively few and expensive available areas for utility-scale wind projects.

By comparison, Brazil’s total estimated wind power potential stands at over 260GW.

“Unless the price of wind power rises significantly, São Paulo will never be competitive for large scale wind,” says Abreu Junior.

As São Paulo’s hydroelectric potential has been all taken up, and as solar rooftop soars in the state – it now accounts for 13MW out of the country’s total 130MW– the state wants to study the potential of small hybrid systems.

The first problem that the plan met is that there are now very few suppliers of small wind turbines in the world and none in Brazil.

Despite the fact that GE, Siemens Gamesa and Enercon have industrial facilities for utility scale 2MW to 3MW machines, the state government had not only to import components – mostly from China – for the 100kW machines for its pilot programme, but had to hire a local company to assemble them.

But the bet is that there is potential which could result in the revival of a local small turbine industry.

“Next year we will have the results and then we’ll make our recommendations,” says Abreu Junior.

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