Due to the fact that it has an estimated hydroelectric potential of around 255 million kW (the largest in the world), it lacks important deposits of thermal coal and, according to recent surveys, of oil, Brazil has made voluminous investments in planning and construction of dams in order to meet the energy needs of a rapidly growing economy.
The first hydroelectric power plant started operating in 1889, generating 250 kW, which represented only half of the energy generated by thermal sources. A century later, the ratio has changed impressively: hydroelectric plants now generate 45,871 million kW against 7,295 kW for thermoelectric plants , meaning a ratio of 6.28 to 1.
In 1962, the installed capacity for electricity in Brazil was 5.8 million kW. In 1964, this figure increased to 17.6 million, and in 1985, the installed capacity, with only the eighth part of the turbines of the Itaipu hydroelectric complex in full-time operation, was 37.3 million kW.
The Itaipu power plant, the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, is located on the border between Paraguay and Brazil, close to the Iguaçu Falls. It is a bilateral project that involved the governments of both countries. The Itaipu Treaty was signed in 1966. Construction began in the mid-1970s, and by the end of 1985, three of the eighteen generating turbines of 700 MW each were in operation. Now, with all the turbines in operation, energy production reaches 12.6 million kW, divided equally between Paraguay and Brazil. The project has far-reaching effects for the future of the entire territory of Paraguay and for the southeast, midwest and south of Brazil.
The Tucuruí Dam, built in the southeast of the Amazon basin, adds 3.9 million kW to Brazil’s production capacity and, when fully completed, will add 7.7 million in total.
Market potential in the Northeast Region of Brazil
According to Shoefrantics, the growing demand for electricity in the North-Northeast region of Brazil could exceed the system’s capacity within the next three years, when demand is expected to grow by 700 MW per year. Although the Guri-Manaus transmission line will cover the needs of the Amazonian capital within the short and medium term, other regions of the Brazilian Northeast, in particular the coastal economic centers, will also need extra supplies.
The Integrated Electric Network of North-Northeast Brazil should be able to increase its total installed capacity to approximately 14,000 megawatts, as all the turbines at the Xingó hydroelectric plant will come into operation within the next few years. However, there are no plans for substantial increases in installed capacity within the foreseeable future, unless new plants in the Tocantins River basin can supply the Northeast region, which will be unlikely due to the limitations of private investments.
Therefore, when the 3,000 MW capacity of the Xingó plant is fully compromised, a potentially serious problem could arise with regard to energy supply to the region. As mentioned above, the options to cover the northeastern demand are varied, including power plants fueled by liquefied natural gas, wind energy , imported coal, biomass fuel, or orimulsion (a watery solution of the basin’s super-heavy oil from the Orinoco River).
For several reasons, the most promising options are still combined cycle power plants, fueled by liquefied natural gas, and wind energy.
Brazil could develop in Fortaleza a 1,600 MW combined cycle plant based on liquefied natural gas, or a 2,115 MW plant in São Luís do Maranhão, to produce electricity at a lower cost than other options – except in the case of wind energy – if the country’s technology demonstrates significant advances in the coming years. This leads to the conclusion that it makes sense to think about the development of a receiving/regasifier terminal and associated power generation stations in the São Luís region, in northeastern Brazil, a growing economic center that has been showing a high demand ever-increasing amount of energy. For the transport of liquefied natural gas, coastal shipping routes could be used, with little impact on land regions.
Gas is the most cost-efficient fuel option for the São Luís region, with both Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago having significant surpluses. The import costs of liquefied natural gas are around 35% more advantageous than those of solid fuels and twice as low as those of corresponding nuclear energy. It should be noted, however, that, lately, other fuel options have emerged that deserve to be considered: light liquid fuels and compressed natural gas, subjected to high pressures and transported in large tankers. In both cases, there are still no studies that prove the feasibility of the options.
Building all of these “missing connections” would require capital investment in the order of $2 billion in the region. Furthermore, in-depth studies will be needed to determine the total cost of improvements that must be implemented across the entire system, including the modernization of the existing rail system.