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Albert Geber de Melo, Director General, Eletrobras Cepel, Brazil

Albert Geber de Melo, Cepel’s General Director, voices his enthusiasm about Brazil’s leading edge in transmission technologies and optimization models. He also guides us through a revolutionary system ‘New wave’, a clear breakthrough in hydropower planning operations and management. Similarly, he urges the need to keep implementing advanced software to improve the adaptation of large projects with the environment.

You started your career as an electrical engineer and soon became renowned in the energy industry, publishing studies and winning prizes. How has your experience been in leading Brazil’s research center for innovation and technology, Cepel?

Working at Cepel is filled daily with new experiences that enrich my previous achievements as an academic. Cepel is an applied research entity and the line of work here is exactly where I want to be. We act as an intermediary between the energy industry and academia.

Cepel develops hardware and software, as well as electrical engineering systems. We are capable of providing multidisciplinary solutions to our customers.

Cepel’s mission is to provide technology assisting the sustainable development of Brazil’s electrical systems. When we refer to sustainability, we do so more than just to our long-term vision. Through our systems we define sustainability as achieving advanced systems generating more power at a lower cost, yet avoiding environmental harm. For instance, the Ministry of Mining and Energy contracted Cepel to develop new hydro power plants in an area of low or no anthropogenic impact. The idea is to maximize the benefit for the environment or minimize the effects on the environment. This represents a new frontier, in the sense that new technology could help us consider the environment in a novel and sympathetic fashion.

At Cepel we have been working on expansion and operation planning as well as real time operation and new technologies such as electronic meters and ultra-tension transmission lines to support the country’s need for innovation and system reliability.

Cepel is defining new procedures and methods to revolutionize Brazil’s transmission lines. As such, the new software SAGE was developed. Could you define the repercussions of this project for Brazil’s transmission line systems?

SAGE is in relative terms software for supervision, control, data acquisition and energy management systems. It is intended to support control centers and electricity substations. Our solution works from the substation of our regional control center through to the national control center. The idea behind this program is that our SAGE could communicate with any hardware installed on the substations. Before the creation of SAGE, needing to update software on new substations would require investing around USD four million to adapt to the new hardware installed by the manufacturer. Given the high cost of this measure our software was designed to adapt and communicate to any existing hardware system at a much lower cost of USD 200,000.  We developed such a solution for Eletronorte at no cost, given that the company is part of Eletrobras, our parent company.

In the end, such a program could not have been developed without ONS’ international bidding which we won and gave us the right to undertake such initiative in Brazil.

Brazil’s hydropower plants are amongst the most advanced in the world and benefit from a historic competitive advantage in this field. In this regard, Cepel has been developing a new program to further improve the hydro sector. What do you feel these new methodologies can accomplish?

The Brazilian approach to hydropower energy management is based on river basin inventories, which lead to integrated energy planning. Basically, once we have evaluated the true potential of one source in a country, we conduct an inventory, followed by a feasibility study, a basic design and finally an executive design before the dam is built. Throughout each of the five stages, engineering assessments balance energy benefits against social and environmental impacts.

In 2007, we released the new manual for Hydropower Inventory Studies to correlate energy generation potential compared to social and environmental impacts as well as multiple uses of water.  This manual has been elaborated on with the support of the IEA International Energy Agency in 2010, and is the reference point for financial institutions, and hydropower stakeholders.

For instance through this methodology we can assess the tradeoff between constructing one hydro plant of 10 MW or five hydro plants of two MW taking into account costs, efficiency rates, social and environmental impacts to highlight the best option.

Of course this inventory study does not only apply to hydro, but to all sources of energy. Through this program we have been able to accurately measure the potential of wind, solar, gas, coal and biomass systems. Specifically for long term planning, we developed MELP (Long Term Expansion planning program) to construct the basis of PNE 2030—National Plan for Energy, for which EPE, Brazil’s research company under the supervision of Mr. Tomalsquim, is responsible for.

These methodologies allow us to find the balance between the operation marginal cost and the expansion marginal cost. Our top program in this sense is called ‘New Wave’. This program allows us to predict a hydro-thermal generation schedule or simply decide the best way to dispatch each source based on the load forecast including existing and new options for expanding capacity. With ‘New Wave’ we cover operation planning for a period of five years, divided in monthly steps to evaluate the need for regulating water capacity in reservoirs. The beauty of this program is that it provides not only the forecasts and data needed to manage reservoirs efficiently over a long period, but it correlates this information with thermal power usage, deciding moment by moment which option is best. With ‘New Wave’ we are able to deliver 20 percent more energy.

Therefore ‘New Wave’ plays on all fronts, from long term expansion planning (10 years) and operations planning (five years), to auctions and Brazil’s commercialization platform managed by Commercialization Chamber of Electric Energy (CCEE), providing them an updated and accurate weekly based spot price for auction bids.

Overall, in any project, a project’s scope goes from strategic, long-term operations planning to operational, real time management. This is exactly what ‘New Wave’ is accomplishing and such programs will really improve our energy management and sustainability.

After showing us the advances of some very advanced computer programs, which will certainly revolutionize the energy sector in Brazil, what do you feel is the status of innovation and technology in Brazil?

Personally, I am not aware of any other country in the world that uses such an advanced level of optimization models. Hence, our models support our hybrid power model and auction bidding system. They have proven to be a success, bringing increased competition, new technologies, long-term planning to Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs), as well as secure and easy access to government financing.

In terms of transmission line technology, Brazil is at the leading edge of ultra-tension transmission line technologies. Since the development of transmission lines in our country, demanding the transportation of energy over very long distances, we have adopted and invested in new systems to meet these geographical requirements. Our experience and the support of Cepel’s research laboratories have brought transmission technologies to a whole new level.

Furthermore, “clever grids” or “smart grids” are emerging in Brazil and Cepel is to construct a new research lab specializing on these new grid systems. The principle effort of the research will be to adapt them to the specificities and requirements of Brazil’s unique circumstances.

Overall the state of innovation and technology in Brazil is very good. The real difference between our country and developed countries in Europe or elsewhere is the state of technologies among our companies. For instance, in the distribution sector, technology is unbalanced causing both technical and commercial losses. At Cepel we have been focusing on improving the overall state of the distribution sector, focusing primarily on automation and distribution losses.

Cepel has a fundamental role in Brazil, since its energy operations and planning depend on the software and methodologies you are unleashing. What are you key priorities and ambitions to drive technology and innovation in the next five years?

Cepel will be playing on two technology fronts, seeking game changing technologies and incremental improvements. We have already achieved a break through with the development of ‘New Wave’. Another revolutionary project soon to come is based on a new solar power platform located in the Northeast of Brazil. This project will be based on Spain’s solar power platform of Almeria, and will test solar technologies, CSP Concentrated Solar Panels and PV Photovoltaic Panels.

On the other side, incremental improvements in technology are necessary since current systems must be constantly updated to meet the needs of our country for larger amounts of electricity.

Our challenge will be to find the balance between the two methods and pursue the option best for the country. Our role at Cepel is not independent but collaborative. All of our actions are coordinated with Eletrobras, the Ministry of Mining and Energy and key stakeholders in our projects.

The potential for improvements are exponential and this is why we have been starting a new project on nanotechnologies. There are many new initiatives to come beyond that. Our endeavors are fundamental to Brazil’s energy future and we will continue to collaborate pursuing excellence in technology and sustainability.

My vision for the future is very clear. Brazil will become the foremost country managing renewable energies in a sustainable and efficient manner.

To read more interviews and articles on Brazil, and to download the latest free report on the country, click here.



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