Brazil Looks at Nuclear Power as Demand for Electricity Grows

A government agency that supports research into Brazil’s energy sector has forecast a significant jump in demand for electricity within the country over the next several years. Empresa de Pesquisa Energética (EPE) in a recent report said power consumption will have average growth of 3.5% annually over the next decade, an increase that will require as much as $58 billion in investment into power generation and transmission, along with as much as 43 GW of new generation.

“Like many other countries around the world right now, Brazil is taking steps to modernize its grid and expand the capacity of its transmission system,” said Andy Bennett, CEO of mPrest, a developer and provider of distributed asset orchestration and optimization software for energy, defense, and commercial markets. Bennett told POWER, “This process will include costly upgrades to the country’s physical infrastructure as well as reliable integration of growing sources of distributed, renewable generation. Intelligent grid management software has demonstrated crucial applications that can support these efforts. We can expect major utilities throughout Brazil to turn to these platforms to facilitate the energy transition and improve their customer experience through access to real-time insights and data-driven decision-making.”

The EPE group said several technologies, both thermal and renewable, are expected to help meet Brazil’s increased demand for electricity. Government data from January of this year shows Brazil currently has 183 GW of power generation capacity in operation, which includes 103 GW of hydro, 46 GW of thermal, 21 GW of wind, 5.5 GW of small hydro, 4.6 GW of solar, 1.9 GW of nuclear, 838 MW of mini-hydro, and 0.5 MW of wave energy.

Hydropower has long been important to Brazil, accounting for as much as 80% of power production a decade ago, though falling closer to 60% today due to changing rainfall patterns. EPE said reliance on hydro will continue, along with growth in wind and solar power. But the group said the country will primarily rely on thermal power plants to supply the bulk of new generation, and that includes nuclear power.

Government officials already have started a process to identify sites for new reactors, which it wants to have in service by 2050 if not sooner, according to Brazil’s “National Energy Plan to 2050.” The country’s Ministry of Mines and Energy in January announced it is working with Electrobras Cepel (Cepel), a state-funded electrical energy research group, to find sites where new reactors could be built.

“An increase in the participation of nuclear energy in the Brazilian energy mix is important to reduce the impacts of water crises on electricity generation,” said Cepel as part of the January announcement. The Ministry of Mines and Energy in a statement said, “Cooperation [with] Cepel should facilitate a more efficient choice of the country’s new nuclear sites, considering projections of energy demand, socio-environmental needs and the attraction of new investment to enable the construction of the plants.” Bento Costa Lima, the minister of Mines and Energy, at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, last year, said nuclear energy “was, is, and will be essential and fundamental for the energy transition,” adding that “we will add 10 GW in the next 30 years.”

1. Brazilian officials want to finish construction of Angra 3, a nuclear power project stalled for several years. The reactor would join two older reactors at the Angra site that have operated since 1982 and 2000, respectively. Courtesy: Eletronuclear 

Brazil’s lone nuclear plant, Angra, accounts for about 3% of the country’s generation from two reactors that entered service in 1982 and 2000, respectively. Unit 1 is a 640-MW reactor; Unit 2 has 1,350 MW of generation capacity. Construction of a third reactor, the 1,245-MW Angra 3 (Figure 1), has been stalled but a restart of that project is part of the country’s nuclear power plan, with hopes it could be in service by 2027.

While Brazil’s government plans to privatize the Eletrobras electricity group, subsidiary Eletronuclear will remain state-owned, providing the group with more avenues to find funding to complete Angra 3. Eletronuclear in September of last year signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s Rosatom to develop cooperation in many areas of nuclear plant operation and maintenance, including new build and construction of Angra 3. Brazil has previously announced plans to add nuclear power on at least two occasions since 2009, though nothing came to fruition despite talks with major global players such as Westinghouse, China National Nuclear Corp., Korea Electric Power Co., and Rosatom. This time, though, the country wants to leverage public-private partnerships through the Conselho do Programa de Parcerias de Investimentos (CPPI, or the Investment Partnership Programme Council). Westinghouse could be on board as well.

“Around the world, we are seeing increased demand for energy, and Brazil is no exception,” said Pam Cowan, president of Westinghouse’s Americas Operating Plant Services unit. Cowan told POWER, “Nations like Brazil are taking a hard look at how nuclear can help meet their growing energy needs. Our products and services are helping nuclear operators deliver reliable energy, achieve energy independence, and build our decarbonized future.”

Westinghouse, which built Angra 1, has serviced Brazil’s nuclear program for more than three decades, and has an active presence in Latin America and South America. The company has said it could supply Brazil with several nuclear power technologies, including its eVinci microreactor, small modular reactors, and AP1000 reactor for a utility-scale plant. “We are well-positioned to support the full nuclear lifecycle—from designing new plants, to maintaining and operating existing plants, and ultimately deactivation and decommissioning,” Cowan said.

CPPI recently said enabling private investment in new energy infrastructure will “open the way for the development of the Brazilian energy sector, motivating the creation of an attractive environment for investors, revitalization of water resources and a structural reduction in energy generation costs.” That private investment, while supporting utility-scale nuclear, also could support distributed power generation as part of Brazil’s energy strategy. “Non-wire solutions like distributed energy resource management systems, or DERMS, enable operators to take a more detailed look at how energy is being used throughout their system,” Bennett said. “Often, this reveals opportunities to lessen stress on assets, giving utilities more time to coordinate system-hardening efforts efficiently and cost-effectively. Taking it a step further, asset health management systems enable utilities to assess the health of critical assets, such as transmission and distribution transformers.”

The CPPI in a statement said, “Brazil needs a strong, efficient and competitive Eletrobras, capable of facing the investments needed to meet the increase in electricity consumption. In this sense, capitalization is essential for a promising future, not only for the company, but also for the electricity sector as a whole. To accomplish this mission, Eletrobras needs a substantial volume of resources, which the federal government does not have. Creating an attractive environment for investors will increase competitiveness in the sector, which in turn will reduce prices for the population.”

Government data shows Brazil has 8.5 GW of generation capacity, encompassing 243 power plants, scheduled to come online this year, though developers have said some projects are likely to be delayed due to the pandemic. Data shows 13.6 GW of generation capacity is under construction, led by wind and solar power installations. Projects totaling another 42 GW of generation capacity, including 26 GW of solar power, are in the development phase.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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