Brazil and Norway to collaborate on solar energy research
December 20, 2017
By Maria Fernanda Ziegler | Agência FAPESP – Collaboration between Brazilian and Norwegian researchers will drive new actions and strategies to promote solar energy in both countries, judging by the First Brazil-Norway Solar Energy Workshop held at FAPESP’s auditorium in São Paulo as the initial action of a cooperation agreement between FAPESP and the Research Council of Norway (RCN).
“Collaboration with Brazil helps us advance in addressing global challenges and increases our research capacity and quality,” said Rune Andersen, RCN’s Science & Technology Counselor in Brazil.
Andersen reported that Norway has two energy research funding programs, called INPART and UTFORSK, neither of which has any restrictions on supporting international participation, including by Brazilians. “Funding for energy research totaled 9 million euros last year,” he said.
The FAPESP-RCN agreement is expected to lead to calls for research proposals and more workshops to strengthen collaboration between scientists from the two countries.
The workshop showed that complementarity will be the key concept in the partnership. Both Brazil and Norway are major producers of oil and gas. Hydropower accounts for a large share of the energy mix in both countries. However, while Norway exports surplus hydropower to neighboring countries and is investing heavily in solar power for residential use, Brazil aims to use its high solar power potential to enhance the resilience and redundancy of its energy mix, which faces rising demand and periods of drought.
“Until recently, solar power was considered futuristic, but the future has arrived, and Brazil is lagging behind other countries on this front. We have huge potential, especially in the so-called solar belt ranging from the Northeast to the Southwest, with Bahia, Minas Gerais and São Paulo at the fore,” said Enio Pereira, who heads the Renewable Energy Modeling & Research Laboratory at the National Space Research Institute (INPE).
Pereira said that although investment in solar energy in Brazil is still modest, this type of renewable energy is forming a rapidly increasing share of the energy mix. According to data he presented, growth in solar energy in Brazil has exceeded 300% in the last two years. It is the fastest-growing energy source, although it still accounts for only 0.02% of the total energy mix.
“The complementarity of energy sources is a very important matter and requires more exploration,” Pereira said. “Because of the water shortage crisis, a large proportion of the power we need is supplied by thermal power stations, which produce a great deal of pollution and are very costly to operate. However, the lack of clouds during a drought means there’s more solar radiation precisely when water to drive hydroelectric power plants is scarce.”
One of the examples mentioned at the November 13 workshop was the joint venture between Statoil, Norway’s state-owned oil company, and the Norwegian independent power producer Scatec Solar to build a 162-megawatt solar power plant in Rio Grande do Norte.
“In Norway, we’re building more and more micro-grids for solar power. We aren’t building large solar power plants because of our relative lack of solar radiation. It’s much better to build huge plants in Brazil, like the Statoil-Scatec venture in Rio Grande do Norte. But we’re an energy nation, and we have accumulated significant know-how in renewables, including solar,” said Morten Dæhlen, Dean of the University of Oslo’s School of Mathematics & Natural Sciences.
In addition to highlighting the two countries’ complementarity in both research and energy sources, the researchers who attended the workshop also stressed the importance of solar energy to modernization of the electricity industry.
“We’re accelerating the introduction of intelligent power grids. Brazil’s electricity system is still load-based, but with solar power and distributed generation [when a home generates surplus solar power and distributes it to neighbors, for example] the system can have loads that are also generators. The problem is that most of the utilities’ equipment can handle power flows only in one direction. If you switched direction at certain times of day, the grid would break down,” said Fernando Pinhabel Marafão, a professor at São Paulo State University (UNESP) in Sorocaba, São Paulo State.
According to Marafão, Brazil is not yet prepared for mass use of photovoltaic energy systems, although research in this field has made strides.
“We need to automate and install more advanced network equipment, as well as smart meters, sensors and reclosers. If distributed generation is to work, the entire electricity industry needs to be reviewed,” said Marafão, who has led a research project on smart grids in partnership with the Norwegian University of Science & Technology (NTNU) since June 2017.
According to Dæhlen, only digitization of power generation and distribution driven by solar and smart grids will enable the world to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal no. 7, on affordable and clean energy for all.
“We face many challenges,” Dæhlen said. “Only one of the 17 SDGs refers directly to energy, but achieving all the others also requires sustainable energy.”
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