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The Brazilian energy matrix

Overcoming political barriers to achieve clean energy is a tall order. Energy transition and clean energy are increasingly connected to a clean environment. Today, more than ever, it is hard to discuss COP 26 without bringing energy to the forefront. For a challenge as great as this, we invited four Brazilian experts to share their views: Professor Fernanda Delgado, Professor Alessandro Trindade, Professor Alexandre Hage, and Dr Larissa Rodrigues. The most exciting thing about these videos is that each one of them tackles a different aspect of the energy sector. Some hold a more optimistic view of the Brazilian energy matrix, while others are more critical about past and current crises.

Professor Fernanda Delgado talks about the Brazilian energy matrix and the lessons we can learn from the Brazilian energy model. While the Brazilian energy matrix is 45% renewable, renewable energy represents just 25% of the global energy matrix. In Brazil, renewables are primarily hydropower and biomass. Professor Delgado argues that Brazil has considerable potential to become a relevant player on the global energy transition, especially considering its use of biofuels and ethanol, which is made from sugarcane in Brazil. Both biofuels and ethanol are well-established industries, making Brazil the world's second-largest ethanol producer. Professor Delgado also mentions the potential role of green hydrogen in the future of the Brazilian energy matrix. According to her, the widespread use of renewable power in Brazil is among the lessons we can learn from Brazil.

It turns out strategic plans in Brazil work pretty well when there is enthusiasm to support them. In other words, there is no strategic plan that survives in the long run as it always depends on the political mood of the moment. This is Professor Hage’s view on the Brazilian energy matrix. Take the case of the ethanol fuel policy, and one can see that there is no ongoing strategy in Brazil. In the 2000s, the Lula Administration carried out a state program that would turn Brazil into an exporter of ethanol fuel to countries that started phase-out fossil fuels to combat global warming, such as the United States and European countries. Through the ethanol project, Brazil could also support developing countries in their energy transition. Even though many ethanol plants were built with government funding to buy mills, trucks, machinery, etc., since the Dilma Administration, the ethanol project has declined. There is a problem of mismanagement in the country's energy sector related to Brazil's inability to sustain sound policies in the long run. According to Dr. Larissa Rodrigues, the current crisis in Brazil's electric industry is a telling example of this kind of mismanagement. This current crisis should therefore come as no surprise as Brazil faced a similar situation both in 2014 and 2019.

Professor Alessandro Trindade shows that 60% of Brazil's national territory has been preserved, resulting from policies developed over the past decades. Besides, 83% of Brazilian electricity already comes from renewable sources according to 2019 figures, whereas the average in OECD countries is 28%, and the global average accounts for 26%. These high numbers in Brazil may conjure up a picture of a bright future ahead. But according to Dr. Rodrigues, the Brazilian government is not committed to the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The Brazilian goal for 2030 is to reach 45% renewable energy in the energy mix. The crux of the matter is that renewable energy already represents 48% of Brazil's energy matrix. In other words, the Brazilian goal for 2030 is worse than the current renewable energy share, which she calls a "no goal strategy."

Both Dr. Rodrigues and Professor Trindade agree, however, that Brazil should no longer prioritise fossil thermoelectric plants but instead focus on other renewables, such as biomass, solar, and wind, which are cheaper than thermoelectric plants. When it comes to solar energy, Professor Trindade advocates the use of photovoltaic systems markets, which is a renewable source that has been growing lately.

The hope for a clean energy matrix is overshadowed by poverty and the lack of access to energy in some regions of the world, though. According to Professor Trindade, there are 789 million people without access to electricity worldwide, representing 10% of the global population. Eighty-two thousand families live in remote communities in the Amazon Basin with no access to electricity. In this regard, Professor Delgado also pointed out that there is still a lot to be done regarding the rainforests, the flotation, and other issues, especially on bringing energy to the poorest population in Brazil. This is something that Brazilians still need to address appropriately.

All in all, we can draw some conclusions from these videos. No overnight transformation is feasible when it comes to the energy transition. A sustainable solution must begin to reckon with the root causes of energy mismanagement in Brazil. Despite counting on a greener energy matrix compared to most countries in the world, Brazil still lacks a forward-looking strategy. Brazil's policies regarding energy transition and energy fuels depend on the political will of the moment. However, the pursuit of clean energy is not a one-off affair but a continuous process. Right now, it is not unreasonable to believe that Brazil is simply treading water.

About the author

Rodrigo Lyra

Rodrigo Pedrosa Lyra

Rodrigo Lyra is a PhD Candidate at King's College London. He joined the King's Brazil Institute in 2020 as part of the Joint PhD programme between King's College London (KCL) and the University of São Paulo (USP). He holds an MSc in International Relations and a BA in political science from University of Brasilia (Brazil). His Master's thesis focused on Brazil-Nigeria trade relations. It stressed the importance of Petrobras to Brazil's international standing and its contribution to Brazil's bilateral trade relations with this African nation. Currently, his major research project is on energy politics, particularly the relationship between international energy companies and foreign policy, and is being funded by the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).

Video contributions by


Alessandro has been a Professor in the Department of Electricity at the Federal University of Amazonas since 2015. He holds a Doctorate in Computing and a master's degree in Electrical Engineering. He is interested in rural community electrification and formal systems verification. His current projects involve partnerships and funding from institutions in Brazil and the United Kingdom, with a focus on riverside communities, particularly in the lower region of Rio Negro in the State of Amazonas, Brazil.

Prof. Hage

José Alexandre Altahyde Hage is a Professor in the Department of International Relations at the Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil. He does research in geopolitics and energy politics.

Fernanda Delgado

Fernanda Delgado is a Professor and Strategic Advisor at FGV Energia. Through an agreement with FGV, she also is a professor in the post-graduate program at the school of command and general staff of the Brazilian army. Fernanda holds a PhD in energy planning and a Master's degree in information technology. She has published four books on petropolitics and has accumulated professional experience in the private sector, in Brazil and abroad. At FGV Energia, she is responsible for coordinating the MBA in management in the oil and gas sector and for the research lines in oil, gas, biofuels and energy transition, in particular: Decommissioning, downstream, low permeability reservoirs, natural gas reserves, energy planning and geopolitics of energy resources.

Larissa Rodrigues

Larissa is a Project and Product Manager at Instituto Escolhas, a nonprofit think-tank that produces studies and analyses on sustainable development in Brazil. She holds a PhD and a master's degree in Energy by the University of Sao Paulo (USP) and a bachelor's in International Relations by Faculdades Belas Artes. She acted as the coordinator of Research and Investigations at Greenpeace Brazil, as well as a Climate and Energy campaigner. She has solid experience working with climate, energy, and forests. Her background includes projects with international organizations, universities, and the private sector on energy systems regulation and modeling. Larissa started her career at the International Relations department of the Federation of Industries of the State of Sao Paulo (Fiesp), working with international trade agreements negotiations.

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