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Brazil to Build World's Largest Floating Solar Farm Amidst Devastating Drought
Photo credit: Shutterstock
The nation announced that within four months, it will commence pilot tests of a gigantic floating solar farm located atop the Balbina hydroelectric plant in the Amazon. It's currently unclear how physically large the floating farm will be, but the enormous reservoir it will sit on covers 2,360 square kilometers.
At 350 megawatts, Brazil's ambitious project would easily trump Japan's currently largest 13.4 megawatt floating solar power plant in terms of power output. To put that in another perspective, the largest solar farm in the world is the 550 megawatt Desert Sunlight Solar Farm in California.
Diversifying energy sources is clearly a necessity for the notoriously parched country. Brazil is experiencing its worst drought in four decades, causing electricity blackouts in many regions. Below-average rainfall in the last few years have depleted its reservoirs, thus gutting its formerly plentiful supply of hydropower, which supplies more than three-quarters of the country's electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As Climate News Network reported, "the reservoirs in the drought-affected region could fall to as little as 10 percent of their capacity, which ... Mines and Energy Minister Eduardo Braga admits would be 'catastrophic' for energy security."
While the sunny country has tremendous potential for solar power, Brazil has been slow to embrace this form of renewable energy. It was only in October 2014, when Brazil made its first foray into this sector with the construction of 31 solar parks, its first large-scale solar project with a combined capacity of 1,048 megawatts.
A shift to solar energy might be fitting, as the Balbina Dam (where the proposed solar farm will eventually sit) has been criticized for emitting more greenhouse gases than a coal-fired power plant.
"We are adding technological innovation, more transmission lines, diversifying our energy generation source, introducing solar energy in a more vigorous manner and combining solar energy with hydroelectric energy," Braga told reporters about the solar farm project.
"We are preparing ourselves to win the challenge in 2015 and be able to deliver a model and an electric system starting in 2016 which will be cheaper, more secure and with greater technological innovation,” Braga said. Electricity produced at the farm is expected to cost between $69 and $77 per megawatt hour, reports say.
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The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.
Last week we received positive news on the border wall's imminent construction in an Arizona wildlife refuge. The Trump administration delayed construction of the wall through about 60 miles of federal wildlife preserves.