Major blackout exposes structural and operational shortcomings in Brazil’s power grid

In recent years, Brazil has experienced several large-scale power outages and restrictions, which have affected the normal life of residents, and have also reignited the controversy over the privatization of Brazil’s electric utilities.

Brazil’s national power system operator (ONS) said recently, after the country’s interconnected system (SIN) operating network failure at 8:31 a.m. local time on August 15, resulting in widespread blackouts across Brazil. SIN data show that Brazil’s national power system load dropped by 25.9% within 10 minutes. According to the “China Energy News” reporter combed through, in recent years, Brazil has repeatedly occurred large-scale power outages and power restrictions, affecting the normal life of the residents, but also once again triggered the Brazilian controversy about the privatization of power companies.

A short period of time triggered the paralysis of social functioning

SIN data show that local time on August 15, Brazil’s national power system load in 10 minutes down about 16 million kilowatts, more than 1/4 of the system’s energy, blackouts in just 2 hours led to a large area of paralysis in the country’s operation.

In terms of geographic distribution, load on the North Brazilian grid dropped 83.8%, load on the Northeast grid dropped 44.4%, load on the Southeast and Midwest grids dropped 19%, and load on the Southern grid dropped 15.5%. at 12:36 on August 15, ONS reported that 55% of the load on the Northern grid had been restored, 81% of the load on the Northeast grid had been restored, and 100% of the load on the Southern and Southeast grids was restored. At 14:49 that day, all power was restored to the Brazilian grid, and the entire event lasted 6 hours and 29 minutes from start to finish, with SIN losing 19,101 MW of load.

The massive power outage disrupted public transportation and medical services in several regions of Brazil. Among other things, the national water supply system was immediately affected, interrupting water supply to residents’ homes in many states and halting the operation of network operators. In addition, subway lines in major cities such as São Paulo, Belo Horizonte and Salvador were shut down, and road traffic was disrupted as traffic signals in major cities were not functioning properly. According to statistics, the impact of the blackout affected about 1/3 of the country’s total population.

After the blackout accident, Brazil’s Minister of Mines and Energy Silveira said the accident was caused by overloading of the power grid in the state of Cealla and investigators have not yet clarified a fault, resulting in power disruptions in the north and northeast of Brazil, which triggered the National Electricity Dispatch Center’s system of contingency measures. The southern, southeastern and central-western regions also experienced power restrictions, but their power supply was not completely cut off.

In terms of energy mix, Brazil relies heavily on hydroelectricity throughout the country, and low water levels in dams can trigger drought warnings throughout the country. But José Marengo, coordinator of Brazil’s National Natural Disaster Monitoring and Early Warning Center, pointed out that the drought was not the cause of the blackout. “Although there has been less rainfall recently, it is not an extreme drought, and the drought alert did not go off.” A report by Brazilian power company Equator Energy said the nationwide blackout was caused by the system’s attempts to minimize losses caused by excessive loads, which led to the automatic activation of blackout protection measures.

Weak grid may lead to frequent blackouts

According to statistics, including this large-scale blackout, Brazil has accumulated seven large-scale blackouts in the past 15 years. The causes of these incidents include external force majeure, failure of the grid’s own lines and protection devices, weak grid structure, negligence of the power sector, and failure to adequately anticipate risks.

In February 2011, a switch between a 500kV line and a bus on the Brazilian grid failed, and the protective device was misactivated causing the bus to trip, resulting in the Northeast Grid being disconnected from the northern and southeastern grids, and the Northeast Grid operating in an island. Subsequently, an incorrect protection setting at a hydroelectric power plant led to the shutdown of most of the hydroelectric units, a large-scale power deficit in the Northeast Grid, and a total interruption of power supply in the region. The incident resulted in the disconnection of the Brazilian Northeast Grid from the SIN, involving a total of seven Brazilian states, with a loss of grid load of 8,900 MW and affecting more than 10 million people.

The worst of the Brazilian blackouts occurred in 2009. At that time, due to heavy rainfall and lightning, five high-voltage power lines at the Itaipu hydroelectric power plant short-circuited, resulting in a sudden blackout in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, two of Brazil’s largest cities, as well as in the surrounding areas. The blackout covered about half of Brazil’s land area, affected 18 states, and resulted in a loss of 24,000 megawatts (MW) of grid load, which accounted for about 40% of the total load of the Brazilian power grid at the time.

Multiple large-scale blackouts may reflect the structural and operational weaknesses of the Brazilian power grid. The latest data released by the Brazilian Electricity and Energy Exchange Center shows that in 2022, 73.6% of Brazil’s total annual power generation will come from hydroelectric power. Researchers pointed out that Brazil can be developed hydropower resources are concentrated in the north, west, and the power load center is concentrated in the southeast coastal region, showing the “north power to the south, west power to the east,” the transmission pattern. The northern region of Brazil is only composed of regional hydropower plants in series through the chain structure, which has a greater impact on the security and stability of the regional power grid.

Power company privatization controversy resurfaces

The scale of the blackout, once again the Brazilian power company privatization to the tip of the wind.

It is understood that Brazil had previously completed the privatization reform of the Brazilian power company, after the reform, the Brazilian government’s shareholding fell to less than 50%. Brazil’s current President Lula has repeatedly issued public statements against the privatization of the company, he proposed during the election campaign to previously privatized several enterprises back to the state, the Brazilian national power company is one of the goals. According to local media reports, the price of residential electricity in Brazil rose by 55% after privatization, while industrial electricity prices rose by about 130%.

After the blackout, a number of power users, including politicians, commented on social media, re-emphasizing the damage caused to Brazil by the privatization of the Brazilian power company. Silveira said publicly, the Brazilian national power company business involves national energy security, to a certain extent, has a “national function”, should not be privatized, “but the privatization of the operation and the blackout is perhaps too hasty”.

Brazil began implementing a restructuring plan for the power industry in the mid-1990s, and introduced competition through the privatization of the power sector. In recent years, Brazil has been committed to promoting electricity market-oriented reforms.

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