Off-grid Brazil: extending beyond isolated communities


Looking for diversification in its product and solution offerings in Brazil, Growatt has set its eyes on supporting the remote distributed generation marketplace. The fast-growth inverter manufacturer recently won a contract for an isolated solar+storage project located in Minuaçu, Goiás, and is looking to expand the new business model in this arena. The new 7 kW off-grid solar PV system will supply power for a basic health unit in Avacanoeiro, an indigenous village of Brazil.

“This project is of great importance as it will not only guarantee energy for care in the indigenous village, but it will also provide for the conservation of refrigerated medicines and vaccines,” says Talyson Alves, Growatt’s marketing manager in Brazil.

Supported by a carport structure used by the National Indigenous Foundation, the PV project consists of 24 335W solar photovoltaic modules. Three of them will be used to power a pumping system, and the remaining 21 make up the off-grid solar PV project coupled with Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) battery technology. The system is supported by a 5 KVA Growatt Inverter, 14.4 kWh battery and 100 Amp Growatt sine wave Charger Controller

Market growth potential

Brazil’s state-owned research firm for the energy sector, EPE, has been supporting the government with studies for sustainable development of the country’s energy infrastructure. According to the latest data available from EPE, Brazil had 270 communities isolated from the power grid, accounting for approximately three million people without power at the end of 2018. With more than 209 million people residing in Brazil, nearly 1.5% of the country’s population have been without grid access. Approximately 265 power plants have been supplying these localities, with a total capacity of 1.16 GW, primarily from thermal plants consuming diesel.

Specifically, it is the logistics needed to continually replenish these plants with the fuel that may turn solar+storage into a competitive option for the Brazilian off-grid market. At least the federal government seems to think so. In March, the Energy and Mines Ministry (MME) announced that approximately 72,000 families in the Amazon region plus the State of Mato Grosso, the “legal Amazonia,” will have access to energy through solar PV systems. This should happen over the next 10 years, supported by a total projected investment of R$ 2.4 billion.

Late last year, the MME’s general coordinator of social policy development, Paulo Cerqueira, announced an expansion of the Luz para Todos (“Power for All”) program. The federal initiative that was established in 2003 to promote the universalization of power supply in the country has already served 3.5-million families, with R$ 20 billion invested in off-grid. By 2022, it is estimated that the program will serve more than 400,000 additional families in rural regions.

A competitive solution

Solar+storage in Brazil is not solely limited to isolated communities for off-grid support however, and Growatt is planning to offer others with a competitive solution. “It will also fit in very well commercially, for example, for a fishmonger in a region where service is not very reliable,” says Alves. That is, in cases where continuous power supply is critical for consumers, they may also need backup power when the local grid suffers from regular interruptions. While this is usually done with a diesel generator, solar+storage offers competitive advantages, such as mitigated fuel and logistics costs. And Growatt believes that its inverter’s remote monitoring system could be a key differential.

“A decisive point to determine the last contract in Minuaçu was our Online Smart Service technology, which allows the operator to diagnose and solve problems remotely in a quick and efficient manner,” says Alves. He recognizes that the installation of the solar+storage system can still be more expensive than that of a diesel generator, but in the long run, without the purchasing and logistics of fuel, the solution can be advantageous.

Rooftop solar+storage

Recently, Growatt has also begun working with residential customers. Moisés da Silva, a homeowner that could be connected to the grid’s power supply, chose to install his own 6 kW solar+storage system. The client was motivated by high tariff prices (R$ 0.52/kWh) for residential consumers in his state, Espírito Santo. The newly installed system runs with two SPF 3000 LVM inverters of 120V, in parallel, split-phase allowing to connect 220V devices.

And Moisés’ project has been broadcasted widely. On the customer’s Sol na Placa (“Sun on the Panel”), YouTube channel, he has shared his personal experience going solar with a reach of 45,000 subscribers. The client frequently comments, “Solar energy is not just for rich people.”

The second inverter in Moisés’ system was donated by Growatt after he spontaneously mentioned the company in one of his videos. With the paralleled configuration, Moisés was able to install an electric shower in his house.

“I have seen a growing range of people who install off-grid systems, even when the grid is available,” says Alves. “Power is expensive, so they cut off their connection from the network and save money.” Off-grid systems, he says with enthusiasm, are now becoming an attractive option to a wider range of consumers.

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