Renewables deliver record-low fossil power in Brazil in February

  • London

  • 18 May 2023

New data from energy think tank Ember reveals that fossil fuels generated less than 5% of Brazil’s electricity in February, for the first time in a decade. Across the first quarter of 2023, fossil fuels generated 5.4% of Brazil’s electricity, compared to 10% in the same period in 2022. This record was driven by strong long-term growth of wind and solar and recent improvement in hydroelectricity performance.

As a result of the decline in fossil fuels, Brazil’s power sector emissions fell by 29% (-3.7 million tonnes of CO2) in Q1 2023 compared with Q1 2022, despite overall generation growth of 4 terawatt hours in the same period. Good hydroelectricity conditions have allowed the current low in fossil use, with hydro generation reaching an all-time high of 125 TWh in Q1 2023; 3.4% (+5 TWh) higher than in Q1 2022.

However, these good conditions do not reflect the trend of recent years. Brazil’s hydro fleet has seen reduced performance in the past decade, with annual capacity factor declining from a high of 59% in 2011 to a low of 38% in 2021. As a result, despite a capacity increase of over 30%, hydro generation has not grown at all since 2011. Brazil’s electricity demand has in contrast grown consistently, increasing by almost 25% since 2011. 

Instead, wind and solar have made the reduction in fossil power possible, meeting 73% of demand growth since 2011. Wind generation has grown by 36% annually since 2011, and solar by 26%. Together, wind and utility solar generation increased by 36% from Q1 2022 to 2023 alone. Brazil continues to install solar rapidly, importing at least 5 GW of solar panels in Q1 2023 alone.

“Brazil can’t depend on good hydro conditions to reliably meet growing demand and reduce its power sector emissions,” said Matt Ewen, Ember’s data analyst. “With El Niño conditions coming, and altered weather patterns due to climate change, the cheapest and most reliable way to provide a secure power supply and cut emissions is to build more wind and solar.” 

“Many opportunities exist: wind integrates readily with Brazil’s system, with excellent seasonal complementarity providing generation in the drier season. Great potential exists for floating solar to provide cheap energy and preserve hydro reserves in dry years, while a nascent offshore wind industry could be prioritised further.”