Wind stirs in tropical heat of Brazil

September's Ecowind '96 conference in Fortaleza, Brazil, sought to push wind development into the market place in Brazil, a country of great potential. Many obstacles exist: there are no incentives for wind energy in Brazil, no indigenous manufacturers and tropical air could cause technical problems. Changes are on the way, however, in March the Federal Senate passed a resolution calling for a $R200 million federal programme in incentives per year to encourage a market for renewables. Ecowind's participants developed an agreement to form a trade association patterned after the American Wind Energy Association in the United States.

Wind turbine manufacturers were already smacking their lips at the prospects of wind energy in Brazil even before September's conference in Fortaleza. Dubbed Ecowind '96 it was intended to wet their appetites further. An enormous country -- Brazil rivals the United States in land mass and its population of 180 million is second only to the US in the Americas -- the potential for wind energy is large. Though hydro now supplies 97% of the country's electricity, wind companies hope to garner a portion of the 7.6% annual growth in consumption.

Despite an undercurrent of conflict within the small Brazilian wind community, the conference sought to push wind development out of academia and into the market place. Presentations by turbine manufacturers, utilities, regional development banks, and government agencies responsible for independent power generation dominated the programme. German manufacturers Tacke and Enercon were both present as was Danish Vestas and US Zond Systems. Zond's Jesse Audette, Tacke's Jürgen Beigel, Jens-Peter Molly of the DEWI wind institute in Germany, and Enercon's Pedro Angelo Vial all spoke in Portuguese, to the delight of the Brazilians who had expected to hear nothing but English from the foreign companies present.

Organised by Carlos Campos and Geraldo Tavares of the school of engineering at the Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, the conference drew 110 participants to distant Fortaleza in the northeastern state of Cear‡. Fortaleza, the provincial capital of two million, is only four degrees south of the Equator and nearly as close to Africa as to Rio. But it is in Cear‡'s tropical heat where commercial wind development in Brazil may first bloom.

From the regional distribution utility, COELCE, Paul Craveiro described the potential market for wind energy in Cear‡ where much of the readily available hydropower has been developed. COELCE delivers 4.6 terrawatt hours to nearly four million people in the state of Cear‡ on Brazil's northeast coast. COELCE estimates there are 1150 square kilometres of wind resources. With average annual wind speeds along a strip of coastal dunes of 8 m/s at hub height and a spacing of 11-22 turbines in the 600 kW class per square kilometre, there is the potential to generate 20 to 40 terawatthours a year in Cear‡ alone. This compares 3 TWh a year of wind generation in California and world wind generation of 7.5 TWh in 1995.

What of incentives?

But many obstacles exist says Craveiro. There are no incentives for wind energy in Brazil, there is a cultural bias toward hydro, and there are no indigenous manufacturers. And the stifling tropical air along the coast could wreak havoc with sensitive components warned one Ecowind participant.

To overcome these barriers Craveiro told participants that he recommends beginning with some initial projects in the dune belt while carefully addressing the visual impact that might result. He also suggested absorbing wind energy technology from abroad for domestic manufacture.

The first wind project in Cear‡ was still being installed while the conference was underway. Craveiro and Tacke's Jürgen Beigel hosted a tour to the recently erected Tacke 300 kW turbines on the breakwater at Fortaleza's commercial harbour. The four gleaming new turbines of Parque E—licos do Mucuripe stand in one of the most dramatic settings of any offshore or near shore wind turbine installations elsewhere in the world. Palm trees sway in the wind off the Atlantic Ocean as the turbines watch over the crescent sweep of Fortaleza's blue waters.

However, the problems that bedevilled the project illustrate the difficulties typically encountered in developing countries using foreign aid. Beneath the veneer of a tropical paradise lies the trash and debris that litters the Mucuripe site. (Beigel hopes COELCE will redevelop the one-time waste dump into a novel destination for wealthy European tourists now flying to crime-ridden Miami.) And despite the project's long gestation, the turbines were still not operational during the conference and remained to be interconnected with COELCE. When finally brought on line, Craveiro expects the machines will generate a respectable 3.7 million kWh annually.

Tender for 60 MW

The $2 million Tacke project, 70% of which came from Germany's Eldorado programme for support of wind in developing countries, is just the prelude to the main attraction: two proposed 30 MW wind plants. The $R100 million projects were proposed by the giant trading company Tomen, using Japanese development aid. However, keen competitive interest in the projects has led COELCE to consider releasing an international request for tender later this year. The projects would be located along the littoral northwest of Fortaleza, one at Paracuru and the other at Camocim. Together the two projects would supply 7-8% of Cear‡'s total electricity.

Like the much smaller project at Mucuripe, the state of Cear‡ must provide a substantial portion of the 60 MW projects' cost. For a poor state in the southern hemisphere finding enough money to buy one of four turbines is one thing, but raising $25 to $30 million for a technology untested in the harsh Brazilian physical -- and political -- climate is quite another.

For the moment wind energy development remains in the hands of slow moving utilities and state governments. But the picture is changing. Last year the federal government moved towards liberalising Brazil's regulatory statutes to permit independent power generation. While wind energy was not specifically included, proponents note that wind was not excluded either. Though in a legal limbo the picture is brightening. In March the Federal Senate passed a resolution calling for a federal programme of $R200 million in incentives per year to encourage a market for renewables.

To shepherd wind's interests across the shifting sands of the Brazilian political landscape, Ecowind's participants hammered out an agreement to form a trade association patterned after the American Wind Energy Association in the United States. How this will affect the existing Associaç‹o Brazileira de Energia E—lica based in the coastal state of Pernambuco remains unclear.

If the new trade association can keep interest in wind energy alive throughout the country and maintain momentum for COELCE's ambitious plans in Cear‡, then Ecowind '96 will have succeeded in its objective to stimulate commercial wind development in Brazil.