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Joining the grid: sustainable energy in Brazil

Research report

Written by Peter Newborne, Bryn Welham

Research report

​Between 1990 and 2010, Brazil more than doubled its energy supply and added 55 million more electricity users, supplying electricity to over 90% of all households while using more renewable energy and emitting less greenhouse gas than comparable countries. Its development of ethanol has resulted in the development of ‘flex-fuel’ car engines that can use both petrol and bio-fuel.

This impressive progress was achieved by a combination of sustained leadership, responsive regulation, public and private investment in research and technology, and government programmes to provide affordable electricity as part of wider poverty-reduction efforts.

Brazil still faces a number of challenges, however. The proportion of renewable energy in its energy mix is declining, and is likely to drop further as new oil and gas deposits become available. Improvements in the design and management of (individual) large hydropower plants have not been matched by the government setting out a persuasive case to the public for the proposed further major expansion of hydropower. Wind and solar power currently make a small contribution, despite wide acknowledgement of their potential and some recent increases in capacity.

A key lesson from Brazil’s experience is that growth in energy supply needs to be matched with credible demand-management measures. The country has made little progress in improving energy efficiency, which means that more energy is being produced and consumed than is necessary. Amid the achievements, this is a serious gap in energy policy.

Peter Newborne and Bryn Welham