Is Brazil considering new hydropower and nuclear power plants to ensure supply?

The worst energy crisis in Brazil in the last two decades has raised concerns about the security of its electricity matrix. And part of the answer could come from environmentally controversial sources, such as large hydropower plants and nuclear power plants.

The country is around 60% dependent on hydropower and has to use all of its – far more expensive and environmentally harmful – thermoelectric resources to guarantee the supply and to increase electricity imports from Argentina and Uruguay.

As a result, regulated electricity prices and spot electricity prices have skyrocketed, putting the current wave of inflation in Brazil under even greater pressure.

Without the expansion of the locally installed wind and solar power in recent years, the situation could have been even worse. However, the natural disruption of these sources means that a stable generation base is required to ensure that the country’s electricity consumption can be met at all times.

In addition to thermal power plants, new hydropower projects could help fill this void, but their potential environmental impact has hampered green field development in Brazil, especially when it comes to large companies with water reservoirs.

But even small hydropower plants can cause environmental damage by changing the course of dammed rivers.

“Building new large reservoirs or a number of small hydropower plants makes no sense and will not get Brazil out of another blackout. New plants of this type have a major impact on society and the environment, especially projects in the Amazon, and they cost more, ”Larissa Rodrigues, project manager at Instituto Escolha, told BNamericas.

The right ways are to raise a price for water use according to the situation of water scarcity in each river catchment area and for all economic sectors and to commission renewable plants such as wind, sun and biomass as a supplement to power generation in the country.

“With these two measures, we could increase the level of the reservoirs and operate the existing hydropower plants in the country with an installed capacity of more than 109 GW,” she added.

Optimizing existing hydropower resources is certainly on the table. In a recent interview with BNamericas, Claudio Trejger, CEO of GE Renewable Energy’s local hydropower division, GE Hydro said the company is committed to upgrading and upgrading its operating facilities.

Andreas Wellmann, CEO of Voith Hydro in Latin America, believes that pumped storage power plants can help Brazil improve its energy security.

These types of systems are designed in such a way that they go online when required in order to ensure the desired generation quickly. At the same time, they are a way of storing electricity without polluting the environment, of storing water in the upper basin in times of low consumption and of generating energy from it in times of high consumption.

“The upper and lower reservoirs are generally quite small, which also guarantees a lower environmental impact. In the Brazilian case, we also have several locations along the coast with appropriate properties for this type of installation, ”he told BNamericas.

According to Wellmann, Brazil was a global pioneer in this area. In the 1940s, the Traição and Pedreira reversible systems were installed on the Pinheiros River in the state of São Paulo. These plants were part of the complex that reversed the Pinheiros River for later power generation at the Henry Borden plant. Today these machines only pump water towards the Billings water reservoir in São Paulo.

“We have examined and identified uses for pumped storage power plants with a potential of more than 142 GW in 30 selected projects in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone,” said Wellmann.

Paulo Arbex, president of Abrapch’s local association of small hydropower plants, says the future is hydropower plants with multi-purpose dams that both generate electricity and irrigate plants.

“We see this crisis much more as a water resource management problem than a water scarcity problem. Brazil is the Saudi Arabia of water resources with 12% of the world’s drinking water.

Brazil’s 10-year energy expansion plan (PDE 2030) names seven possible new hydropower plants – either run-of-river power plants or reservoirs – in the next 10 years and 15 after 2030.

Despite the possibility of expanding and modernizing the existing generation park, the base scenario does not envisage any new hydropower plants in the next decade, as the supply problems have shown that this is not necessarily an economically attractive expansion option.

The most attractive hydropower projects for the system include the Tabajara power plant, which has made progress in the approval process in the final months of 2020, and Bem Querer.

“Although they will not be listed as a project until after 2030, they are characterized by their high contribution to covering SIN’s energy and electricity needs. the end [national power grid]by having a prosperity profile that is complementary to the largest basins in the national grid, adding energy during times of greatest need, “a spokesman for the Mines and Energy Department (MME) told BNamericas via email.


Earlier this week, the development bank BNDES approved the possibility of temporarily suspending debt servicing operations in support of investments in hydropower generation (over 50 MW), in the direct, indirect, non-automatic and mixed modalities.

The action comprises a number of 26 eligible projects for which the Bank is the main financier.

“This new measure is another example of the timely contribution of the BNDES to improving the resilience of the national hydropower plant, which is facing an extremely atypical water situation,” said the bank’s director of infrastructure loans, Petrônio Cançado, in a statement.


With regard to nuclear energy, the PDE 2030 indicates the need to resume studies on possible expansion sites.

MME has been striving to complete the construction work on the Angra 3 plant since 2019. It should go online in 2026. In June, BNDES signed a contract with Tractebel Engineering to structure the project to complete the plant.

The national energy plan (PNE 2050) provides for an expansion of nuclear energy by up to 10 GW, which would correspond to a five-fold increase in the currently installed capacity in the Brazilian electricity matrix.

The MME spokesman stressed that nuclear power has the advantages of non-greenhouse gas emissions and of using domestically produced fuel, which can reduce supply gaps.

Nuclear power plants occupy relatively small areas and can be built near large consumer centers, eliminating the need for long transmission lines.

“From an energy planning perspective, the nuclear option, like renewable energies, will play an important role in the Brazilian electricity matrix,” the spokesman continued.

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