IN DEPTH: Brazil's learning curve

Most of the wind turbines being erected in Brazil were designed by foreign companies for overseas wind conditions.

The local supply chain is nowhere near big enough to build all the millions of components turbine makers will need to meet the increasingly strict local-content rules. An estimated 280,000 people will need to be hired and trained in the next six years in turbine manufacturing, construction, transportation and operations and maintenance.

The Brazilian government and the local wind industry acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to do as the sector ramps up to an installed capacity of more than 17GW by 2020, especially in driving for greater efficiency and cost reduction. Which is why millions of reias are being channelled into new research centres and training initiatives across the country.

Bottlenecks will not only arise in the supply of components, they will arise in the supply of qualified labour,” says Ceres Cavalcanti of the governmental think-tank CGEE, which was hired by the Ministry of Science and Technology to study the needs of the wind industry.

She has been meeting with industry leaders and government officials with a view to discussing the creation of a national research and testing centre in the boom region of the Northeast. She says she has already been given an initial nod by the key federal ministries, as well as developers, manufacturers and component suppliers, although a final go-ahead will probably be given after the October election.

The new centre will focus on human resources, new materials, product design, certification, testing of equipment, and at a later stage, wind regime studies and mapping. It will include a full-scale testing facility where turbine makers can operate prototypes and appraise the performance of components.

Adapting equipment to the local wind conditions is seen as the best way to maximise output. The country’s winds tend to be more constant and less gusty than in Europe and the US, where most of the turbines in Brazil were developed. Climatic conditions are different too — with higher temperatures and greater humidity, while coastal wind farms have to deal with salty, sandy air that can erode blades and damage electrical components.

According to Cavalcanti’s blueprint, the initial financing for laboratory equipment at the national research centre will come from the government, with private companies paying to use the facility.

State governments are also investing in their own R&D facilities. Bahia in the Northeast has already allocated R$16m ($7.2m) of its planned R$100m investment in a renewables research centre that will initially focus on calibration, certification and fatigue testing of wind-power equipment and materials.

The facility will be based at the Senai-Climatec technical school in Salvador, and the state has already signed co-operation agreements with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Germany and Spain’s national renewable-energy centre, Cener.

In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, where winds are gustier and temperatures are lower, the state government — alongside three local universities and renewables NGO Instituto Ideal — is planning a research centre that will train personnel, support components suppliers’ technical development and map winds in the South.

Scientific and technological advances in Brazil have long been based on the so-called “triple helix” policy — combining R&D programmes from government, academia and businesses.

With more than 80 university research groups studying wind power across the country, there is plenty of scope for increased co-operation.

The Brazilian wind power association ABEEólica is planning an online network to facilitate interaction between companies and academic researchers, and has already signed co-operation agreements with the Cerne renewables think-tank in Rio Grande do Norte, and with Coppe, the applied engineering school at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

However, finding the required R$600,000 of financing has been tough — especially as executive president Elbia Melo wanted to avoid a conflict of interest by asking member companies to invest. The search for funding is now being led by an unlikely partner, Revista Brasileiros, a São Paulo publishing house, which believes the project will complement its own existing online innovation network.

In May, Brazil’s industrial education service, Senai, completed the outline of a programme of 22 training courses for the wind industry, aimed at churning out skilled labour for turbine makers, construction firms and O&M providers. Subject matters will include equipment transportation, turbine maintenance at high altitudes and wind data analysis.

“To develop the programme, we spoke to companies, trade associations, unions and factory workers, which made us realise that wind power needs a new set of skills,” says Jorge Cardozo, who co-ordinated the creation of the courses.

So far, out of Senai’s 400 technical colleges throughout Brazil, only one in Rio Grande do Norte has started to offer the courses.

“Professional qualifications for the wind industry are very pertinent because it creates a base to support the industry,” says economist Nivalde de Castro, head of the energy research group at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “Wind power in Brazil has a lot of potential, so we need to take the opportunity to build a real industrial complex around it.”