Q&A Series: Amaro Pereira Shares About His Work and Areas of Opportunity for Renewable Energy in Brazil

Amaro Pereira is an economist and associate professor of the Energy Planning Program (PPE) in the Institute of Graduate Studies in Engineering (COPPE) at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). He has experience in energy and environmental modeling, along with working in the areas of regulation of energy sectors, integration of new technologies and different energy sources on issues related to climate change.

 

Please describe yourself and your work.

I am an Associate Professor of the Energy Planning Program in the Institute of Graduate Studies in Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (PPE/COPPE/UFRJ). Additionally, I am a researcher at CentroClima and member of the Permanent Technical Committee of LIFE (Lasting Initiative for Earth) Institute. Previously, I was a technical advisor of the Energy Research Company (EPE) and Visiting Professor at the University Pierre Mendès-France in Grenoble, France and at the University of Texas at Austin, United States. My experience is in energy and environmental modelling, along with regulation of energy sectors, new technologies and climate change issues. 

As an associate professor of the Energy Planning Program at COPPE / UFRJ, what energy projects are you currently working on or interested in?

Currently, I’m involved in a collaboration with the National Institute of Technology Tiruchirappalli, in India, and Tomsk University, in Russia. The project is sponsored by BRICS funds. We are developing waste-to-energy technologies, such as pyrolysis and gasification. The idea is to produce synthetic oils or gases to feed Internal Combustion Engines. These are good options for flexible electricity generation.

Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put that to work in your country.

My background is energy modeling and I have been involved in many projects related to climate change. As Brazil is a country with many renewable source options to reduce GHG emissions, the passion for renewable energy was born naturally.

How would you like to see your work implemented on a global scale?

Showing solutions to reduce GHG emissions by deploying renewable energy projects, especially in developing countries.

You have said that one of the greatest areas of opportunity for Brazil’s renewable energy journey is the power sector. What do you mean by this?

First, because more than 60% of the electricity comes from hydro power plants with huge reservoirs which allows the regularization of water inflows and thus complementing the generation from solar and wind power. Also, due to the availability of many other natural resources.

Brazil is improving its flexible technologies, such as hydropower power plants, and investing in battery technology. What are your current hopes for Brazil as it continues on its path to 100 percent renewable energy? For example, what progress do you envision for the region over the next few years?

In our project, we want to present another way to provide flexible generation to complement the intermittence of solar and wind power via synthetic oil produced or gases by waste-to-energy technologies.

Q&A Series: Marina de Abreu Azevedo Shares Her Ideas about the Brazilian Electric Matrix

Azevedo is a doctoral student in the Energy Planning Program at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. She’s a researcher specialized in renewable energy and the Brazilian electric system at Fundação Getúlio Vargas Energy Department. Previously, Azevedo worked as an educational and sales consultant, translator, teacher and earned an internship in Health Safety and Environment (HSE) at the Natural Gas and Energy department at PETROBRAS.

 

Could you describe yourself and your work?

I’m an environmental engineer who specializes in energy planning. I finished my master’s degree in 2018 and am currently completing my Ph.D. in the Energy Planning Program from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.  

I’m also a researcher at the Center for Energy Studies at Getulio Vargas Foundation. My  renewable energy work there involves projects regarding the expansion of onshore wind in the Brazilian electric matrix, the nationalization potential of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technologies, energy economics and solar distributed generation. 

What made you want to join the Path to 100%?

I was invited to join Path to 100% by my doctoral supervisor since the topic is related to my thesis. I am excited to be a part of this program and have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who have similar interests and work towards the same goal as mine: A sustainable energy transition.

Describe your passion for renewable energy and how you have put it into practice in Brazil.

I have dedicated the past 10 years to studying how the world can adapt to a more sustainable place, where development does not have to mean so much hazard and damage to the environment. I intend to keep doing this for the rest of my life. Of course, there are many ways to establish a sustainable path, but I believe that the energy sector has a major role in it, especially with renewable sources, which unlike fossil fuels, still have a major learning curve. More specifically, my thesis research focuses on studying possible 100% renewable scenarios for the Brazilian electric matrix and the social and economical impacts of them.

How would you like to see your work implemented on a global scale?

In general, I believe simply seeing countries transition to a sustainable energy matrix, supported mostly by renewables would already bring many social, economic and environmental benefits. In this context, I think Brazil can be an example to the world, since we face many social challenges and have our own, very complex energy system. 

What do you think are the best areas of opportunity for the renewable energy sector in Brazil?

Brazil is a very rich country in terms of natural resources and biodiversity. We are also a very large country, with a vast territory, big population and a severe social inequality. In turn, these factors bring a great challenge to planners.

I believe the greatest opportunities lie on embracing the country’s variety and the individual characteristics of each region. The energy sector should focus on a diverse portfolio, and the agents should invest on developing tools that value the benefits that each source brings to the system.

More specifically about renewables, Brazil has a great opportunity to serve as an example to the world because we have the potential to incorporate almost every renewable technology at stake on the market. This includes the more conventional renewables, such as onshore wind and solar photovoltaics, but also biodiesels, pumped storage hydros, offshore wind, wave energy, CSP technology, and more.

Now, what do you consider to be the main barriers or challenges Brazil faces on its path to clean and affordable energy?

I believe the biggest barriers we face concerns the low political interests regarding sustainable development and the broad population lack of knowledge on the matter.  To strengthen renewables, it is necessary to have a regulation that supports new technologies in time for them to become competitive. Additionally, we need to promote local generation. In order for that to happen, we need more partnerships between industry, government and academia. 

Finally, how can Brazil lead the way towards 100 percent renewable energy? And what progress do you foresee for the region in the coming years?

Brazil has a very distinguished energy system and a very renewable matrix, which is unusual for a country of its size. We should assess the complementarity between sources and their impacts, as the matrix becomes more intermittent with the continued growth of renewables. Other countries that still have a larger path to pursue for an 100 percent renewables scenario can benefit from our experience.

The Day California Went Dark Was a Crisis Years In the Making

At-a-Glance: 

Signs of a problem within California’s power system emerged a full day before the blackouts hit. Trader Dov Quint sat in his basement outside Boulder, Colorado, scouring the state’s day-ahead power market for opportunities to profit from California’s heat wave. He saw something strange: Prices for electricity to be delivered the next day – the day of the blackouts – were nearing $1,000 a megawatt-hour, more than 26 times higher than last year’s average. To learn more, read “The Day California Went Dark Was a Crisis Years In the Making.” (Reading this article requires a subscription.)

Key Takeaways:

  • At 2:56 p.m., a gas-fired plant unexpectedly tripped, sucking 475 megawatts of power from the grid. The state ordered power suppliers to fire up reserve gas units to make up the difference.
  • But there wasn’t enough reserve gas generation to go around. The state had retired 9 gigawatts of gas capacity — enough to power 6.8 million homes — over the past five years. The state is also planning to shut down Aliso Canyon, which has been operating at reduced capacity after the biggest gas leak in U.S. history was discovered there in 2015.
  • California Independent System Operator had been warning state regulators for years that there weren’t enough power supplies during the net peak period in summer and that it faced a potential shortfall of 4.7 gigawatts in the evening hours starting in 2020, said Steve Berberich, head of the grid operator. 

Path to 100% Perspective:

 The path to reliability and sustainability is flexibility.  Flexible capacity allows maximum use of variable renewables such as wind and solar, while also ensuring the constant and reliable flow of electricity. Flexible power plants can turn on and off in a matter of minutes in response to changes in wind or sunshine. Unlike inflexible, traditional gas and coal plants, flexible gas plants don’t need to keep running all the time, so they burn dramatically less fuel. Power-to-hydrogen and power-to-methane powered by renewable energy produce fuels that act as long-term energy storage, accommodating needs arising from seasonal changes and providing backup power during long-lasting unusual weather events. Once 80% to 90% of electricity in a system is generated with renewable sources, utilities can convert flexible generation plants from burning fossil-gas to running on synthetic carbon-neutral or carbon-free fuels produced with excess renewable power.

 

Photo by Gilberto Parada on Unsplash

Why California Keeps Having Blackouts

At-a-Glance: 

As Californians again experience rolling blackouts, and millions more are threatened with losing power, Stanford University economics and energy-markets professor Frank Wolak said it was clear  “California policy makers completely forgot the lessons from the crisis…in their rush to go green.”

Wolak explains California regulators have left the state dangerously exposed to buying large amounts of imported electricity on the spot market during peak periods on days when there is extreme energy demand. To learn more, read “Why California Keeps Having Blackouts.”(Reading this article requires a subscription.)

Key Takeaways:

  • On many days, California’s grid operator now has to find 10,000 to 15,000 megawatts of replacement power—sometimes 25% to 50% of what it needs to keep the lights on—during a three-hour period as solar and wind power falls off.
  • California often relies on imported power from other states to help fill its void. But when a historic heat wave gripped the Western U.S. this month, the state struggled to find a way to replace up to 8,000 megawatts of disappearing renewable energy each evening. 
  • Two numbers help explain why California finds itself scrounging for megawatts on many evenings. Between 2014 and 2018, the state reduced its consumption of electricity from natural gas-fired power plants by 21% according to the state’s energy commission. Over that same period, it increased renewable energy consumption by 54%.

Path to 100% Perspective: 

Michael Peevey, who served as president of the California Public Utilities Commission under three governors before stepping down at the end of 2014, was a key figure in implementing increasingly ambitious mandates by state politicians that required utilities to purchase more wind and solar power. In an interview, Mr. Peevey said rigid adherence to that policy might have gone too far, particularly in light of state decisions to shut down two big sources of round-the-clock power, the San Onofre nuclear power plant in 2013 and the last remaining nuclear plant in the state, Diablo Canyon, after 2025. “It worked well until these last few years, apparently,” Mr. Peevey said. He added that he worried the state didn’t reserve enough round-the-clock power generation “during this rush to renewables.”

 

 

Photo by Robert Thiemann on Unsplash

New Mexico approves 100% renewables + storage replacement for San Juan coal capacity

At-a-Glance:

New Mexico regulators unanimously approved a plan to add renewable energy and storage to replace a portion of the San Juan Generating Station’s capacity owned by Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM). The portfolio includes 650 MW of new solar resources and 300 MW of battery storage, totaling over $1 billion in investments within the districts impacted by the San Juan plant closure. To learn more, read New Mexico approves 100% renewables + storage replacement for San Juan coal capacity.”

Key Takeaways:

  • New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act (ETA) requires the state to reach 80% renewable energy by 2040 and 50% by 2030.
  • A 100% renewables portfolio was the only replacement option that fully satisfied the state’s ETA, said Public Regulation Commissioner Cynthia Hall.
  • The decision is estimated to bring 1,200 construction jobs to the area along with around $500 million each to two school districts that now receive benefits from the San Juan station. 

Path to 100% Perspective:

Utilities, regulators and other stakeholders across the country are grappling with increasingly rapid coal plant retirements and determining what technologies should replace them in the future. New Mexico regulators’ decision to transition to a 100% renewable energy portfolio will not only help satisfy the state’s ETA by 2045, but the investments in the area will bring jobs and economic benefits to the community.  

 

Photo by American Public Power Association

NextEra Energy to Build Its First Green Hydrogen Plant in Florida

At-a-Glance:

NextEra Energy is closing its last coal-fired power unit and investing in its first green hydrogen facility in Florida. With its Florida Power & Light (FPL) utility, NextEra will propose a $65 million pilot that will use a 20-megawatt electrolyzer to produce 100% green hydrogen from solar power. If approved by state regulators, the project could come online by 2023. To learn more, read “NextEra Energy to Build Its First Green Hydrogen Plant in Florida.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Green hydrogen is made using renewables to power the electrolysis of water, without giving off   CO2 emissions. Unlike other hydrogen produced globally, green hydrogen does not use fossil fuels as feedstock.
  • For NextEra, hydrogen represents not only an opportunity to help decarbonize its FPL utility but also a potential new market for the wind and solar power it generates across North America.
  • “We’re really excited about hydrogen, in particular when we think about getting not to a net-zero emissions profile but actually to a zero-emissions carbon profile,” said NextEra Energy CFO Rebecca Kujawa.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Renewable hydrogen can be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from replacing natural gas in thermal power plants to powering fuel cells to move cars and ships. NextEra Energy’s move to shutdown its coal-fired power plant and invest in a green hydrogen facility is a step in the right direction for the Sunshine State on its path to 100% renewable energy.

 

Photo: Greentech Media

Energy Cast Podcast: Bringing Flexible Engines and Renewables Together

At-a-Glance:

Energy Cast is a regular podcast featuring some of the top experts across all links in the industry chain. Those include coal, nuclear, efficiency, renewables, oil and gas, as well as top government researchers. Longtime project manager Jay Dauenhauer created it and has been hosting Energy Cast for several years. In this Energy Cast podcast, host Jay Dauenhauer talks with Risto Paldanius, Wärtsilä director of business development for energy storage and optimization: “Bringing Flexible Engines and Renewables Together”.

Key Takeaways:

  • Wärtsilä’s reciprocating engines are being deployed in places where renewable capacity is growing, such as wind-heavy Oklahoma and west Texas.
  • Paldanius talks about Wärtsilä’s acquisition of Greensmith Energy as well as the lessons learned that led to the embrace of fast-starting combustion engines to balance the intermittent clean energy on the grid.
  • “ We saw renewables coming (and) realized that is very beneficial for our engine business,” Paldanius said, “because the engines are very flexible–stopping, starting and highly efficient.”

Path to 100% Perspective:

This podcast continues the conversation of coordinating between fuel generation, renewables and storage to develop a hybrid energy future to provide a critical solution to energy grids struggling to find the right combination.  This 22-minute discussion covers the misconceptions of diesel engines, the way to maximize today’s software and way to optimize next generational storage.

Xcel Energy Has A Bold Plan To Put 1.5 Million Electric Cars On The Road By 2030

At-a-Glance:

Xcel Energy serves 3.3 million electricity customers in eight states — Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. In August, it announced plans to help put 1.5 million electric cars on the road in those states by 2030. It will do that by promoting electric cars, providing rebates for people who buy an electric car, helping customers install residential EV chargers, and expanding the public charging network for electric cars. To learn more, read “Xcel Energy Has a Bold Plan to Put 1.5 Million Electric Cars on the Road by 2030.”

Key Takeaways:

  • Part of the program will be targeted toward low income drivers in underserved communities.
  • With Xcel Energy’s low electricity prices, driving electric equates to spending about $1 per gallon of gas and can be even less when charging at off-peak times.
  • Xcel Energy’s vision is to provide 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050. Powering 1.5 million EVs by 2030 would reduce carbon emissions by nearly 5 million tons annually by 2030, or about 3 tons of carbon reduction per vehicle.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Accelerating EV adoption, with the help of a range of partners and supportive policies, can drive major reductions in carbon emissions while delivering customer savings and making the most of clean energy investments across multiple sectors. Targeting more communities, including underserved populations, will further normalize the presence of electric vehicles for consumers and create more familiarity with them.

 

Photo: Michael Marais on Unsplash

U.S. Solar Energy Market: Growth, Trends & Forecasts 2020-2025

At-a-Glance:

The United States solar energy market is expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of more than 15 percent during the forecast period of 2020-2025. Factors such as supportive government policies to meet more energy demand through renewable energy is likely to drive the United States solar energy market. To learn more, read, “U.S. Solar Energy Market: Growth, Trends & Forecasts 2020-2025”.

Key Takeaways:

  • The solar photovoltaic (PV) due to a significant decline in the cost of installation, held a considerable market share in 2018 and is expected to dominate the market during the forecast period.
  • States such as California, New Jersey, and others have set solar energy targets for 2030, which are expected to create several opportunities for the United States solar energy market in the future.
  • Upcoming and ongoing projects focused on increasing the share of solar in renewable energy are likely to drive the United States solar energy market to an even more aggressive level during the forecast period.

Path to 100% Perspective:

In 2019, the United States added 9114 megawatts (MW) of solar installation in the country. Every state in the country contributes to solar energy generation and many counties are announcing plans to utilize 100% renewable energy resources.  Upcoming solar projects include the Peak Durrance Solar Center in Florida which is expected to be finished in 2022 and the Tayandenega Solar Project in New York expected to start by the end of 2020.

 

Photo: American Public Power Association on Unsplash

Which States Are Making the Most Progress on Emissions? Not the Ones You Think

At-a-Glance:

According to a new report from the World Resources Institute, an international research organization, 41 states managed to cut their carbon emissions between 2005 and 2017, even as their economies grew. The states leading the charge might not be the ones you expect. To learn more, read Which States Are Making the Most Progress on Emissions?  Not the Ones You Think”.

Key Takeaways:

  • According to the report, Maryland cut emissions 38 percent 12 years and the Northeast region as a whole cut emissions by around 24 percent. In contrast, most Western states — including Washington and California — saw their carbon emissions rise or decrease only slightly over the entire period.
  • Devashree Saha, one of the authors of the report, said the Northeast quickly switched over to natural gas, which produces far less carbon dioxide than coal-fired power.
  • The Northeast is also the home of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an interstate agreement that caps carbon emissions from power plants in Maryland, Maine, New York, and seven other member states in the region. According to a report from the nonprofit Acadia Center, the program has reduced power plant emissions by almost 47 percent since it started 10 years ago, far outpacing the rest of the country.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Authors indicate states such as California and Washington may appear to be lagging behind because their carbon intensity may have been low before the study period began. However, the improvement documented in the Northeast does indicate intentional regional efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase renewable energy integration which is beneficial to others learning from their progress.

 

Photo: Grist

Who Will Own the Hydrogen Future: Oil Companies or Power Utilities?

At-a-Glance:

To date, gigawatt-scale announcements in the hydrogen sector have been dominated by oil titans such as Shell, BP and Equinor, typically involving plans for meeting large sources of existing demand in industrial clusters and in some cases their own oil refining operations. Prolonging the lifespan of multibillion-dollar gas infrastructure investments makes for another compelling incentive. But big utilities in Europe and North America, increasingly large actors on the global energy stage, are not staying on the sidelines. To learn more, read “Who Will Own the Hydrogen Future: Oil Companies or Power Utilities?”

Key Takeaways:

  • In the U.S., NextEra recently announced a 20-megawatt electrolyzer, essentially designed to produce green hydrogen for self-consumption at a gas-fired plant in Florida.
  • Iberdrola revealed plans to build a 20-megawatt electrolyzer project for an ammonia factory in Spain. The system will include a 100-megawatt solar plant and a 20-megawatt-hour battery in addition to the electrolyzer.
  • However, today, oil and gas companies have better access to gigawatt-scale hydrogen projects via their own refineries and the petrochemicals sector, which are often sited together in clusters.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Carbon and emerging technology experts believe at the moment, the economics of green hydrogen can’t compete with fossil-fuel-derived alternatives. For green hydrogen to work, electricity prices will need to be near zero and electrolyzer utilization rates will need to be high.

Oil and gas firms will likely continue to dominate the green hydrogen sector in the near term.  Although the pursuit to leverage hydrogen as a way to achieve renewable energy goals remains a concept, it continues to be an option worth pursuing for both the oil and utility industry for the benefit of the renewable energy future.

 

Photo: Uniper

‘Solar for coal’ swaps: A financial innovation that could accelerate the carbon transition

At-a-Glance:

An innovative new financial approach is accelerating the electric sector’s financial transition from coal to clean. “Solar for coal swaps” could help refinance the 26 GW of existing coal plants that will be uneconomic compared to local renewables in the near term, using private capital to fund community-level investment for publicly-owned cooperative retail utilities, while supporting local economic development. To learn more, read Solar For Coal’ Swaps: A Financial Innovation That Could Accelerate The Carbon Transition.

Key Takeaways:

  • Solar for coal swaps involve third parties – an energy marketer, a renewables developer, and related investors – purchasing and retiring coal assets from a regulated utility in conjunction with a contract for new solar.
    • Transaction terms include payment for solar power plant output, repayment for purchasing and decommissioning coal plants, and may include financing for community transition
  • Publicly-owned and municipal utility governing boards can consider solar for coal swaps to accelerate transition away from uneconomic coal with the following considerations:
    • Consumer savings or rate stability can be achieved along with transition to cleaner resources that satisfies consumer demand
    • Local economic development options can be created through solar for coal transactions
    • Pressure created on recalcitrant utilities by these new options can result in striking changes in their strategy and outlook
    • Private sector financial, technology, and market capabilities can be brought to bear on behalf of utilities who might not have these levels of expertise on staff

Path to 100% Perspective:

As fossil and renewable cost differentials widen, more clean-energy swaps could make sense in more places. The examples from this article demonstrate the future of the renewable energy sector is brighter and more innovative than ever before.