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    A Bright Future for Solar in LAC?

    By Keith R | October 18, 2006

    Topics: Economics & the Environment, Energy & the Environment, Environmental Protection, Renewable Sources | No Comments »

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    cover of the EPIA/Greenpeace Report on Solar Market Prospects

    Seeking Enlightenment 

    In a prior entry I wrote about the special maps indicating solar and wind power generation potential among Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) nations.  But knowing what average daily radiation rates in any given area is only part of the equation.  I've been on the lookout for quite awhile for a study that would provide at least some rough estimate of the prospects in LAC for actually realizing solar's potential. 

    There are several studies by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC/CEPAL) — all on the Temas Recommended Reading List –that do a pretty good job of describing the status (as of 2003, at least), and barriers to greater use of renewable energy sources in the region.  However, they tend to either treat the entire sector in the abstract or focus too heavily on hydroelectric, biomass, biofuels and "sustainable fuelwood," giving solar short shrift. 

    The exception, Renewable Energy Sources in Latin America and the Caribbean: Situation and Policy Proposals (PDF available for download in both English and Spanish), was produced in 2004 jointly with the German technical cooperation agency GTZ.  It does a good job of describing the solar projects in the region as of 2003, but shied away from prognostication for solar.  I wanted a study or report that not only focused on solar and focused on LAC, but also looked ahead further than the next 2-3 years.Projected Growth of Photovoltaics Market up to 2025

    Let There Be Light?

    Well, two out of three is not bad.

    Last month the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and Greenpeace (GP) jointly released the third edition of their study on the global market prospects for power generation from photovoltaics (PV) until the year 2020 (the first edition was released in 2001, the second in 2004). 

    The EPIA/Greenpeace reports are excellent for a global overview of trends in photovoltaic technology development and deployment, and their 2001 global projections so far have been more or less on-target (market development in the US did not meet expectations, but this was compensated by Germany exceeding projections). 

    Projected Fall in Price of PV Electricity in Buenos AiresThe latest report provides plenty of detail for Europe (it is, after all, EPIA's home market!) as well as for the countries from each geographic region spotlighted in "case studies."  Luckily one of those spotlighted is Brazil (see discussion below). 

    Otherwise, though, the report provides sparse information on LAC nations.  In fact, the two tables and the pie graph I provide in this article are largely it.  [NOTE: bear in mind when considering these tables and graph that this report adopts the International Energy Agency's (IEA) classification of Mexico as part of "OECD North America."]

    Projected World Solar Market in 2025Projection of World Solar Market in 2025

    The EPIA/Greenpeace report offers some general policy recommendations for all nations to consider:

    Brazil in the Spotlight

    The report does take a closer look at Brazil's prospects.  Brazil has huge potential, notes the report, but currently its participation in the world PV market is poor.  Brazil's Energy Ministry estimates installed PV capacity at 9 megawatts (MW), but EPIA and Greenpeace argue that this figure is too low.  After Brazil's PRODEEM rural electrification program terminated, most PV installation has been done by charities and nongovernmental organizations.  A professor from the University of São Paulo's (USP) Electrical Engineering Department estimates that once NGO activity is factored in, the figure is closer to 15 MW.

    EPIA and Greenpeace feel that, with the right policy mix, Brazil can achieve 150 MW installed capacity by 2010 and over 2,000 MW by 2025, creating some 60,000 jobs in installation and maintenance over that period in the process (see chart).  Given high irradiance with low seasonal variance, and a national mandate to bring electricity to every Brazilian by 2008 (luz para todos), some of the fundamentals for strong growth certainly are there.  But it will take policy changes. 

    Which policy changes do they specify, you ask? 

    None of these are likely to be acted upon before Brazil's national elections are decided.  But most are politically possible in Brazil if the Casa Civil (the President and his Cabinet) get behind it and lobby the Congress to enact it.  Probable exceptions: the CO2 tax and the cut in diesel power subsidies in remote locations.  Both ideas would face stiff lobbying from the usual suspects.


    Brazil's Solar Market Up to 2025


    To download an English PDF of the EPIA/Greenpeace report, click this link.  Unfortunately, a Spanish version is not yet available.

    — Keith R

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