An aerial view of cracked ground near Brazil's depleted Atibainha reservoir. Photo: Paulo Whitaker / Reuters

By Priscila Jordao and Silvio Cascione; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn
26 March 2015

SÃO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil will import electricity from Argentina and Uruguay this year, the government said in its official gazette on Thursday, the latest step to fend off energy rationing as reservoirs of local hydroelectric plants remain at very low levels.

The imports will be "exceptional" and "temporary," according to the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which set the rules for the purchase of electricity from the neighboring countries.

State-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, will be responsible for the imports from Argentina. Centrais Eletricas Brasileiras SA, the government-run company known as Eletrobras, will handle imports from Uruguay.

With reservoirs nearly depleted following a three-year drought, Brazil had to resort to an expensive network of thermal power plants to secure electricity supplies lately. Energy rationing is still a possibility, although the situation has improved a bit after strong rains since February.

Brazil to import electricity from Argentina, Uruguay

By Jake Levine
27 March 2015

(Opower) – Of the many stories I heard about the drought while I was in Brazil earlier this month, one stands out. A colleague was riding the elevator in her building and saw a note from a concerned neighbor. “Dear neighbors,” the note read. “As you know, we are in a severe crisis. Everyone must do their part to conserve water. That is why I have decided to only wash my car once per month. I hope everyone else can make a similar sacrifice.”

I had just spent five days in São Paulo, visiting electric utility executives to imagine how software technology could better engage their consumers toward addressing the deepening crisis. Twenty million people live in São Paulo, which is suffering its worst drought the metropolis has seen in nearly a century. A couple of weeks earlier, during Carnival, some towns in the region had canceled street parades for fear there may not be enough water to clean the streets or cool down the crowds. Officials from São Paulo’s water utility, Sabesp, had already begun rationing water.

The last time Brazil faced a water crisis of this magnitude, a small private utility  — the São Paulo Railway and Light Company  — was at work constructing the foundation of a modern infrastructure to supply water and power. Today, Brazil’s system of reservoirs and dams provide more than drinking water; they supply more than three-quarters of its electricity generating capacity. So as the Cantareira’s stores fluctuated like a dollar stock  —  dipping to just five percent of capacity in early February — Brazil’s utilities braced for an energy crisis.

The city and the utilities have begun awareness and conservation campaigns. São Paulo has set up booths around town to distribute faucet aerators. Eletropaulo — the massive São Paulo electric utility which grew out of the Railway and Light Company — was considering how to communicate Brasília’s new tariff warnings to consumers, which adjust the rate price of electricity according to the level of water in the reservoirs. Sabesp, the city’s water utility, has begun to identify additional reservoirs that could funnel water into the starving Cantareira.

In spite of these efforts, there is one resource that Brazil is ignoring: its consumers. Provided with the right information, and engaged at the right time, millions of Brasileños could help stem their country’s water crisis by saving water and electricity.

There are three things in particular that Brazil should do.

First, Brazil should encourage its electric utilities to provide consumers with better information about their energy consumption. Behavioral science tells us it’s easier to save when we know how much we’re using and how much our usage compares with others. Think about what happens to your driving, for example, when you see your car’s gas mileage on the dashboard. Opower has proven this technique in partnership with nearly a hundred energy utilities around the world. [more]

Brazil’s water crisis is also an energy crisis. Brazilians themselves are the solution.



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