Brazil doubles chance of blackouts or energy rationing in 2001

Aug 03, 2000 02:00 AM

Brazil faces a 10 % chance of blackouts or energy rationing in 2001, instead of the normal risk of 5 %, according to Mario Santos, president of the National Electric Power Grid (ONS). Reservoir levels are low, and it will take time for new generation projects to come on line, he said. Meanwhile the ONS is concentrating on strengthening security systems.
"It's impossible to completely eliminate the risk of mini-blackouts in an electricity grid," said Santos, who noted that such problems were common throughout the developed world, and exacerbated in Brazil where there are relatively few large-scale generators, with extremely long transmission networks between them.
Nevertheless, the risk of problems in 2001 is greater than the ONS would prefer. A drought in the centre-south of Brazil this year has left reservoirs at dangerously low levels. When the rainy season comes to an end at the end of April, water levels are normally at 100 %; this year, however, they had not reached 60 %.
By the end of the year, Santos said he expects water levels in reservoirs to be at 20 % of capacity. This is a problem in a country where 95 % of all energy is produced with hydroelectric power plants. Santos calculated that the hydroelectric system can function normally in 2001 with rains up to 15 % below the historical average: anything below this will be problematic.

The Mines and Energy Ministry is well aware of the risk it is running, and is moving swiftly to reduce the country's reliance on hydro-electric power. The ministry has kicked off an emergency plan to stimulate the construction of 49 gas-fired thermal electric power plants through 2003, most of which will be funded by the private sector. This program is seen adding some 9,400 MW to the country's generating capacity. And many existing generating facilities are in the process of expansion.
As of now, Brazil's installed capacity stands at some 65,000 MW, while peak-time demand is 55,000 MW, leaving the ONS with scarcely enough room to manoeuvre. However, by 2009 installed capacity is seen topping 103,000 MW, more than enough to cover peak demand of 86,000 MW expected at that time.
Demand for energy in Brazil is growing at a fast lick. The ONS registered a 4.2 % growth in energy demand in the first seven months of the year, and expects demand to grow by 5.1 % in 2000 as a whole.

But building new plants takes time, and in the meantime the ONS is concentrating on upgrading its current security system. French company ALSTOM Power recently won a $ 6.5 mm contract to modernise the country's security system, a job which should be completed within 18 months. The new system will allow real time observation and control of the country's energy network.
Santos said he hoped that as Brazil's energy grid becomes more reliable, investors will step forward to pump money into new generation projects. The ONS is all too aware of what happens when it lets its guard down. In March last year much of the south and centre-south of the country was left in darkness for hours in the country's worst blackout since 1985. Santos said that much was learned from that bitter experience. "Modernisation is only a palliative (varnish): there's no alternative for expanding the system," he said.

Source: Bridge News via Newspage
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