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Brazil’s Locomotive Breath

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The process of growth and modernization in Brazil has been always described as an example to be followed by other developing countries. Nevertheless, the Brazilian ‘locomotive’ has stopped.

The country is going through a period of dramatic political and economic instability. Although the Olympics Games should have been an international show of Brazilian power, they revealed the structural weakness of a country full of ambiguities and contradictions instead. Petrobras’ inquiry, combined with negative effects of the economic crisis, seem to have temporarily buried the China of South America. Oil wealth becoming yet another time not a blessing but a curse.

“In a broader sense, the hydrocarbons and its scarcity phychologization, its monetization (and related weaponization) is serving rather a coercive and restrictive status quo than a developmental incentive” – diagnoses prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic, and concludes: “That essentially calls not for an engagement but compliance.“

To describe the history of the nation we need to focus our attention on oil, because the black gold is the embodiment of the success -and fall- of the Brazilian economy.

Oil – how black is gold

One the central drivers of Brazilian economic growth has been the production and the export of natural resources and their products. Looking at Brazil’s GDP between 1982 and 2015, three main trends can be observed. (i) A stable growth pattern from 1982 to 2002. (ii) The GDP rocketing up between 2003 and 2012, with a light slowdown during 2009-2010 caused by the financial crisis. (iii) A fall of GDP’s values between 2012 and 2015. Analyzing the evolution of the percentage of annual GDP growth’s, it is not possible to identify a specific trend. The most significant point that can be made is the constant growth of the GDP between 2004 and 2008, which was around 5% per year. The economic growth does not just imply a dramatic increase of GDP but also the improvement in social-economic status of millions of poor brasilians. Starting from 2001 the level of absolute poverty – defined as the percentage living with less than two dollars per day – decreased 12%. The levels of relative poverty – defined as the percentange of people with less than 50% of the average income – fell by 25% between 2002 and 2013.

Graph 1: Trend of Brazilian GDP 1982 e il 2014

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Graph 2: Percentage of GDP Grotwh 1982-2014

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Graph 3: Trends of poverty levels 1995-2013

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The value of export and of the satellite activities of natural resources for Brazilian is represented by their proportion on the total GDP. As clearly shown in Graph 4, one of the engines of the Brazilian boom in the 2000s has been oil. Its incidence on GDP increased remarkably from 1999, a stable growth that reached its peak during 2000s. Between 2003 and 2006 oil rents produced around 3% of total GDP. Graph 5 shows the cost of oil per barrel from 1980 to 2015. To clarify, the most important oil reserve in Brazil is Pré-Sal, which needs to compete in a market in which the price is of at least 70 dollars per barrel in order to be profitable. The fall of the international price of oil, then, has been penalizing the Brazilian economy that was already damaged by the crisis of Chinese demand and the slowdown of FDI.

Graph 4: Percentage of oil and natural resources on Brazilian GDP 1982-2012 

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Graph 5: Trends of oil barrel 1980-2014

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Eike Batista, imagine of Brazilian fable

The story of Erike Batista is bond with the growth and the fall of Brazilian economy. Batista has been one of the richest man in the world, 8th in the Forbes rank of worldwide billionaires and owner of 30 billion dollars in 2012. However, this changed in 2014 when he admitted to the loss of his wealth and his debt of one billion dollars. How is it possible that this self-made billionaire lost his wealth totalling a whopping 30 billion dollars? The success and the fall of Batista’s business is connected to oil. In the 80s, after completing his metallurgic studies, he went to Amazon forest to implement machines in the research and the extraction of gold. In the 1983 he bought a small society in the Canadian stock exchange, of extraction and trade of natural resources., that gained the value of 1.7 billion dollars in a few years. In 2002 he sold his company for 875 million. The devaluation of the asset was due to wrong investment done by the society in Greece, Russia and Czech Republic, which cost million of loss.

Batista exploited new opportunities that arose during the Brazilian economic boom. Between 2001 and 2002 he created and subsequently sold two companies to the Brazilian state; a thermodynamics and an iron production company. The holding that would make a Batista billionaire was OGX (Petròleo e Gàs Participacoes), specialized in the research and refinement of oil and gas. The market strategy of OGX was aggressive from the beginning. In 2007 he arranged the rights of exploration for 21 areas for OGX doubling the amount offered by its competitors. The next year OGX was able to produce barrels at the cost of 145 dollars per barrel and it announced their structures would be able to produce 1 million barrel per day in 2019. Batista’s ambitions and his confidence in Brazilian economy encouraged him to invest a large amount of money to build up an harbour at Acu, 400 km away from Rio de Janeiro. The project was supposed to create a centre for the refinement and the trade of oil products, thereby radically increasing OGX’ productivity.

From 2008 onwards, the Brazilian magistrate started to investigate bribes that Batista allegedly gave to the Governator of Amapà, Waldex Gòez, concessions of privileges for his companies. Even though the media caught wind of the investigation, the judiciary case was closed without any charges. The slowdown of Brazilian economy and the fall of the oil barrel started to strain foreign investors and foreign shareholders and lead them to reduce investments into Batista’s companies. The final blow was caused by the Abu Dhabi fund, Mudabala Development, which retired from EBX – one of Batista’s holdings – and asked for the liquidation of all their stock options which totaled 1.5 billion dollars. The financial pressure then cut the liquidity of Batista’s companies, which, having invested a lot of money, survived using financial leverage. Like a balloon, EBX snapped under the weight of financial debts that made Batista lose all of his assets.

Petrobas investigation

In March 2014, a group of Brazilian judges started to investigate the relationship between the Worker’s Party and the public oil company Petrobras. The charge was that executive directors of Petrobras and of the main building societies (Btp) developed a corrupt system in which Btp would receive contracts for the construction of oil platforms increasing the building costs between 1% and 3%. In exchange, governmental parties would obtain illegal funds to sponsor political campaigns. The companies involved were Camargo Corrêa, Oas, Utc-Constram, Odebrecht, Mendes Júnior, Engevix, Queiroz Galvão, Iesa Óleo & Gás e Galvão Engenharia and members of the Workers’ Party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (Pmdb) and the Progressive Party. (Pp).

The main consequence of the inquiry was the delegitimization of the Workers’ Party that led Brazil from 2002 onwards. The President, Dilma Rouseleff was forced to leave office despite the fact she was not personally involved in the investigation. The successor of former President Lula endured immediate pressure to resign for her knowledge of systematic corruption as Chairman of Petrobras and Minister of Energy (2003-2005). Nevertheless, the impeachment of Rouseleff regarded the charge of having transferred public funds from national banks to finance social expenses that went beyond the fixed amount allocated for public expenses. However, the charges that led to her dismissal did not include the Petrobas scandal. Eduardo Cunha was the political leader leading the group that called for Dilma’s dismissal. Paradoxically, he was not only found with a secret million dollar bank account in Switzerland, but was also barred from assuming any public position for eight years due to an investigation for his involvement in corruption and bribes. Some representatives of worldwide left-wing parties talk about a conspiracy to dismiss the Workers’ Party. The Brazilian and international elite allegedly exploited the economic crisis to destroy the consensus of Lula and Rouseleff’s party, which had always had significant popular support. Lula won the election in 2002 with 46.4% of the votes against just 23.3% of his opposing candidate José Serra. In 2006, Lula was confirmed President with 48.6% in the next election. His successor, Dilma Rouseleff, won in 2010 with 46.9% of the votes. Even though she experienced a small decline, Rouseleff won the election in 2014 with 41.6% of the votes. These Brazilian governments made enemies in the international market due to their politics of nationalization and semi-nationalization of natural resources. For example, Petrobras, founded in 1953, was partially privatized during the 90s. However, Lula started a propagandist campaign in 2007 to return company under state control. In addition, to prevent the private exploitation of the Pré-Sal oil reserve, Lula’s government passed a law to give to Petrobras the monopoly to explore the area and extract oil from Pré-Sal.

Some influential voices, such as independent Brazilian experts and academics raised concerns about the nature of the process. Pedro Fassoni Arruda argues that there were secret powers behind the impeachment that were also involved in the coup d’etat in 1964. In a similar vein, Pablo Ortellado criticised the framing of Rouseleff in the media. Sapelli contends that the modern political history of Brazil is characterized by a deep fragmentation of parties, which means every President has to deal with many small personalist parties. The external support that every government needs to administrate generated the construction of a system of corruption intrinsic to Brazilian society. Many experts believe that judge’s actions could enforce the trust of markets and investors in Brazilian institutions. Cutting the ambiguous bonds that exist between parties and companies should help to make the legal framework more stable and safe, strengthening the power of the Law. This could be a message from Brazil to all the world, that whoever is corrupted, no matter what status, will be punished.

Recently, the news reported the Brazilian parliament approved a law with 292 in 393 to abolish the monopoly of Petrobras on the reserve of Pré-Sal. This law seems to be just the first step of a greater project of privatization pursued by President Michel Temer. With strong politics of liberalization for Brazilian natural resources, Brazil seems to offer intriguing opportunities for business and investments for many multinationals. If Petrobras’ inquiry is just conspiracy or smart intuition is hard to understand. Surely, the destiny of Brazil will be, another time, defined by black gold. For better or worse.

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Energy

Australia’s commitment to affordable, secure and clean energy

MD Staff

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Australia should rely on long-term policy and energy market responses to strengthen energy security, foster competition, and make the power sector more resilient, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest review of the country’s energy policies.

In line with global trends, Australia’s energy system is undergoing a profound transformation, putting its energy markets under pressure. Concerns about affordable and secure energy supplies have grown in recent years, following several power outages, a tightening gas market in the east coast and rising energy prices.

Besides assessing progress since the IEA review of 2012, the Australian government requested the IEA to focus on how Australia can use global best practices in transitioning to a lower-carbon energy system. This question points to safeguarding electricity supply when ageing coal capacity retires, increased variable renewable energy comes on line and natural gas markets are tight. In this context, the IEA also contributed to the Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market (NEM) by Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel.

“The government’s efforts to ensure energy security and move ahead with market reforms have been impressive. Australia can develop its vast renewable resources and remain a cornerstone of global energy markets as a leading supplier of coal, uranium and liquefied natural gas (LNG), securing the energy for growing Asian markets.” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director, who presented the report’s findings in Canberra. “A comprehensive national energy and climate strategy is needed for Australia to have a cleaner and more secure energy future. The National Energy Guarantee is a promising opportunity for Australia to integrate climate and energy policy.”

Along with the United States, Australia is leading the next wave of growth in liquefied natural gas (LNG). As a major exporter of coal, Australia is also a strong supporter of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies. The report commends Australia’s efforts which can be critical globally to meeting long-term climate goals.

The IEA’s review points out that the sustainable development of new gas resources is critical for natural gas to play a growing role in the energy transition, satisfying a growing domestic gas demand in power generation and industry and to honor export contracts at the same time. The report calls on Australia to continue efforts to improve transparency of gas pricing, boost market integration and facilitate access to transportation capacity.

Welcoming the government’s energy security focus, including the creation of the Energy Security Board, the Energy Security Office, and Australia’s plan to return to compliance with the IEA’s emergency stock holding obligations, the IEA recommends regular and comprehensive energy security assessments to identify risks early on, and foster the resilience of the energy sector.

In terms of power system security, the report offers a series of recommendations on how to improve the market design of the National Energy Market (NEM), one of the most liberalised and flexible power markets in the world. To accommodate higher shares of variable renewables, the IEA recommends that the NEM prioritises measures to safeguard system stability, enhance grid infrastructure, including interconnections, and regularly upgrade technical standards. As consumer choice and prices in retail markets are liberalised across Australia, the government needs to focus on wholesale competition and demand-side flexibility, in recognition of the changing ways energy is produced and consumed, thus contributing to reducing peak demand.

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5 myths about solar panels, debunked

MD Staff

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Home solar panels can drastically cut or even eliminate electricity bills, reduce a home’s carbon footprint, increase resale value, and may even help a home sell faster.

The cost of rooftop solar systems has fallen dramatically in recent years, and most homeowners have the option of buying the system, leasing it on reasonable payment terms, or having a third-party pay for and install the system at no up-front cost at all for the homeowner. Plus, home solar systems are eligible for federal tax credits.

All of this explains why the number of homeowners installing solar has sky-rocketed across America. Nevertheless, many homeowners remain skeptical about taking control of their energy use and installing solar. Why? The various myths that still persist around solar power could be the reason.

“Solar technology has been around for a long time, but even though it’s entered the mainstream, many homeowners are still skeptical,” says renewable energy expert Roger Ballentine, president of Green Strategies, a leading Washington-based consulting firm. “That’s because a number of myths persist, pointing to the need for better consumer education about the benefits of home solar installations.”

Ballentine points to private and government studies providing real information that debunks the myths surrounding solar power. For example, research by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found solar panels help homes sell faster and for more money than those without solar.

If you’re considering installing a solar panel system on your home, here are five common myths — and why you shouldn’t believe them:

Myth 1: Solar panels only work if you live in a warm, sunny climate

While solar panels work best when they get a lot of sun, a lack of bright sun doesn’t mean they’re not working. Panels can still absorb ambient sunlight, even on cloudy days or in regions that get less bright sun. What’s more, today’s solar panels are more energy efficient than ever. Newer systems like the “LG NeOn R” maximize sunlight absorption and generate the maximum possible output — as much as 26 percent more than other comparably sized solar panels. This higher efficiency means that solar panels can work in virtually any climate and every season.

Myth 2: You need a lot of roof space for solar panels

Just like other amazing technologies (think microchips), solar panels are getting smaller, more powerful and more efficient. High-efficiency panels take up less space because fewer panels are required to produce the electricity needed to power your home. So even a smaller home could have enough roof space to fit the number of panels needed to generate the necessary power and save you money.

Myth 3: Installation is a long, drawn-out hassle

While adding solar panels to your home isn’t a DIY project, installation usually takes only a day or two. New models streamline the process further, eliminating the need to install a separate inverter. Most solar panels require a separate inverter to bring electricity into your house, but new panels from LG, for instance, incorporate the inverter, simplifying and accelerating the installation process.

Myth 4: If something goes wrong, you’re on your own

As with any major investment in your home, you should make sure you understand the manufacturer and installer warranties for your solar panels, including how long the coverage lasts and what types of problems are covered. One leading solar player, LG, even offers an industry-leading, 25-year product and power warranty. And unlike a furnace or an air conditioning system, a solar installation has no moving parts to wear out and typically requires little maintenance and repair.

Myth 5: Solar panels will look big, bulky and ugly on your roof

Solar panels are becoming smaller, sleeker and more aesthetically pleasing. Higher-efficiency models are also offering increased flexibility of configuration. Instead of having to cover an entire roof with panels in a specific arrangement in order to generate power, modern options allow you to arrange panels to meet your sense of aesthetics.

Adding solar power to a home offers homeowners many benefits, from reducing energy costs, to increasing the value of your home and helping the environment, Ballentine says. “Overall, it’s a decision most homeowners feel positively about once they’ve made it.” The NREL notes in its study: “Buyers of homes with (solar panel) systems are more satisfied than are comparison buyers. A significantly higher percentage … indicate they would buy the same houses again.”

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ADB-Supported Kyrgyz Republic’s Largest Hydropower Plant Achieves Key Milestone

MD Staff

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photo: ADB

JSC Electric Power Plants (EPP), the major state-owned power generation company in the Kyrgyz Republic, today announced the award of a turn-key contract for the Asian Development Bank-supported (ADB) modernization of the Toktogul hydropower plant (HPP) to a joint venture of GE Hydro (France) and GE Renewables (Switzerland) for $104 million.

The modernization project includes new state-of-the-art units which will improve safety, efficiency, reliability, and availability of the Toktogul HPP, located on the Naryn River in the Jalal-Abad Province and considered the country’s largest and most important hydropower plant, increasing its overall capacity to 1,440 megawatts. The additional capacity will be sufficient to supply about 200,000 households for an entire year.

ADB and the Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) financed the replacement of four units of the Toktogul HPP, which has been generating about 6,000 gigawatt hours per year for 43 years. Because of aging equipment, however, the plant has experienced increasing number of failures in recent years.

“ADB has been supporting the energy sector in the Kyrgyz Republic since 1996 as the rehabilitation, replacement, and augmentation of power sector assets are critical for energy security in the country”, said Candice McDeigan, ADB’s Country Director for the Kyrgyz Republic.

“The phased rehabilitation of the Toktogul plant has been the key priority for ADB’s energy sector support in the Kyrgyz Republic and its timely rehabilitation is key to the country’s plan to export summer surplus to Afghanistan and Pakistan through the CASA-1000 power transmission line”, said Ashok Bhargava, Director for the Energy Division at ADB’s Central and West Asia Department.

EPP commenced phased rehabilitation of the Toktogul HPP project in 2012, starting with the refurbishment of the secondary electrical and mechanical equipment, the rehabilitation of two Toktogul units, and later completed by the remaining two Toktogul units, with an overall target completion by 2024-2026. The latest milestone was a result of the extensive competition among all major players and EPP’s innovative approach to procurement and design, which brought in competitive pricing and accelerated completion of the project by 3 years.

“In 2016, EPP decided to fast track the procurement of the four turbines and generators of the Toktogul HPP through single procurement for economies of scale, resulting to completion three years early. With ADB support, the EPP conducted multiple roadshows to improve the

procurement design based on industry feedback and international best practice to increase completion for the project,” said EPP General Director Uzak Kydyrbaev.

GE Capital, the ultimate parent of the GE consortium, has provided a guarantee to support its operation in the Kyrgyz Republic. GE has committed to commission the first unit by November 2020, and one additional unit each year by November 2023

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