Solar power systems — both commercial and residential — have become so popular that by 2016, it’s estimated a new solar power system will be installed every 20 seconds. However, although the popularity of solar power has exploded in recent years, Brazil is just now beginning to consider it a viable source of sustainable energy — and not necessarily by choice.
Despite being one of the sunniest countries on Earth due its close proximity to the equator, Brazil has only recently begun turning to solar power to meet its energy needs due to a devastating drought, which is the worst the country has experienced in 80 years.
Prior to the drought, solar energy was called “a fantasy” by President Dilma Rousseff. In fact, a mere 400 homes in Brazil are equipped with photovoltaic (PV) panels due to prohibitive costs.
Due to the severe lack of rainfall, reservoir levels have fallen too low for Brazil’s major hydroelectric dams to produce power, an unfortunate reality considering 80% of the country’s energy needs are met by hydroelectricity. Luckily, the drought, in addition to the appointment of a much more progressive and open-minded Energy Minister, has made the need for another energy source — in this case solar power — a top priority for the Brazilian government.
According to reports, Brazil’s energy minister Eduardo Braga recently announced the government’s plans to create a series of pilot floating solar power plants directly on top of the country’s hydroelectric damn reservoirs over the course of the next four months. A 350 MW test pilot project is currently being planned for the Amazon’s Balbina hydroelectric power plant. Early estimates predict the electricity generated will cost approximately $69 to $77 per MWh.
Ironically, the Balbina hydroelectric plant has long been surrounded by controversy. In addition to the loss of rainforest habitat that occurred during the plant’s construction, the plant is also said to emit methane from the dam’s reservoir over 2,360 square kilometers, causing the plant to produce more greenhouse gas than most coal plants.
In addition to Brazil, floating PV systems have begun to gain traction in several other solar markets, including Australia, India, Japan, Korea, and the United States.