Brazil's original wind-power state looks to offshore and hybrids

State of Ceará sees big potential for wind at sea and mixed-technology plants as it maps a return to renewable big-time

Brazil’s northeastern Ceará state is betting on offshore wind and solar-wind hybrids to make a comeback as a leading renewable energy district, a decade after pioneering turbine deployment in the South American nation.

“Up to 2009 we accounted for over 50% of new wind capacity added, now we account for 13.6%. We don’t want to be bigger than other states, we want to reach the same level,” Joaquim Rolim, head of energy at Ceará’s federation of industries FIEC, told Recharge ahead of the launch of a new wind and solar atlas that includes a potential 117GW of offshore turbine capacity.

As well as mapping the state’s wind-solar hybrid potential and connections to the country’s national grid, the local government has taken steps to ease licensing regulations and other red tape, a move that will also help the supply chain, since Ceará is where OEM Vestas has a nacelle assembly plant, and where Aeris and Wobben (Enercon) produce blades, Rolim claimed.

Brazil's Ceará state sees a 117GW offshore wind potential

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Ceará is the home to Brazil’s first commercial wind farms, equipped with Wobben turbines in the late 1990s, and was the national leader with 1GW up to 2014. But as new wind districts were found inland in other states, the rigid environmental licensing on Ceará’s coast limited the number of new projects, as costs were higher compared to other regions.

The new atlas pegs Ceará’s onshore wind potential at 94GW. The study was carried out by local wind consulting firm Camargo Schubert – Brazil’s leading wind resource specialist that mapped Ceará’s wind in the early 2000s.

This is almost fourfold the original 25GW estimate made 20 years ago. The details will be revealed at a future event, Rolim said. The new atlas will be made available online and will allow investors to combine the solar and wind resources, as well as map small-scale distributed generation potential for net-metering arrays.

“The data comes from real wind measurements from equipment installed in the turbines spinning in Ceará, which make up the 2GW of wind capacity in operation on the state,” he said.

But it is offshore that lie the state’s hopes of a new renewable frontier. At water depths of up to 20 metres that stretch some 50km offshore, Ceará says it could harvest 117GW.

By comparison, conservative national estimates based on computer modelling put Brazil’s total offshore wind power potential at around 600GW, but this is cut to 300GW when you subtract shipping lanes and environmental restraints at water depths of up to 20 metres.

Although the two estimates may not be directly comparable, Brazil’s 8,000km shore, shallow continental platform and constant, unidirectional, non-gusty trade winds, indicate potentials similar or larger than the 500GW figure onshore.

According to Rolim, the federal government now needs to put its weight behind a pilot project to kick-start the industry. With capacity factors of over 60%, compared to 40% in other parts of the world, Rolim is optimistic about the future prospects.

“We need to build a first offshore wind farm to prove the case, but the potential is huge, with similar potential in the waters of our neighbouring states and especially up north [near or on the equator line] in states like Maranhão,” he said.

Ceará is home to two of the most advanced offshore wind projects: the 700MW Asa Branca and the 600MW Caucaia, both undergoing environmental licensing and permitting, testing the waters of non-existent regulations for offshore wind in Brazil.

But the first offshore project is expected to be a 5MW pilot plant in the state of Rio Grande do Norte that is being developed by Petrobras

For now, Rolim is keen to see onshore wind catch up with solar in his state. He said the wind regimes combined with the state's huge solar potential could be ideal for contracts in the non-regulated market which is growing in Brazil.

In the last A-6 tender, a total of 2GW of new wind was registered in the state. This compares with 8GW in the state of Bahia and 6GW in Rio Grande do Norte.

In solar, Ceará does a little better, registering 3GW of tender-ready projects. But new frontiers such as the state of Piauí registered a whopping 7GW of solar PV projects.

“With the changes in licensing, expansion of grid connections and the hybrid map we should increase the number of projects developed in the state,” Rolim predicted.

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