Back around June, the general public learned that the water level in the lakes of hydroelectric plants was so low and would still drop so low that the risk of strict electricity rationing was hopeless—“strict” rationing means mandatory reduction in consumption . The situation remains desperate, but it is better than expected in the middle of the year.
The risk diminished because plans worked and heaven helped a little. But we are in an emergency, which should last at least until March or April 2022, if all goes well. The electricity bill will remain salty until then, at least, and the crisis causes a lot of financial problems in the electricity sector, which remains chronically disordered.
The energy stored in the Southeast and Midwest plants is expected to reach a lower level by the end of November than in November 2020, according to current forecasts. By these estimates, they should drop to a level very similar to November 2014, when we were also at the time of death in electricity and the year in which the city of São Paulo was weeks or days away from the running water drought. Why Southeast and Midwest? Because 70% of the maximum storage capacity is in hydroelectric plants in these regions. “Stored energy” is how much electricity you can do with the water in the reservoirs, roughly speaking.
In June, authorities, scholars and analysts on the subject actually said that, in 2021, there would be no rationing if all the technical measures were taken, if it did not rain even less than the little forecast, if there was no shortage of gas for thermoelectric plants or if a did not break down or had to stop for routine maintenance etc. We would arrive on November 30th with the rope around our neck and with the risk of occasional blackouts (due to excess consumption at a certain time), at the tip of a pencil or spreadsheet, but without strict rationing.
But the situation was hopeless. It’s still bad, one of the worst in recent and comparable years. The energy stored in the Southeast and Midwest plants was 16.8% on Wednesday, October 13th. In the bad year of 2014, 23%. The risk does not depend, of course, only on the simple measurement of water in these lakes, but on the energy available in other regions and from other sources, in addition to the interconnection of this system (transmission lines) and the import of electricity from neighboring Argentina and Uruguay. But a collapse in the Southeast and Midwest is fatal.
It is now expected that the capacity of the reservoirs in these regions will reach something around 16% by the end of November. The average of the seven bad years from 2014 to 2020 was 22.9%. In the seven good years from 2005 to 2011, the average was 52%. The current shortage is the result of a mixture of ugly drought with the depletion of natural resources and an electricity sector that, in terms of regulation, prices, etc. works on the basis of a lot of workaround.
What has alleviated the problem since 2021? The technical measures taken by the authorities in the electricity sector, which, to crudely summarize a very tangled subject, have been producing milk from stone have worked out well — we are at the limit, there is no slack and more heroic measures still need to be taken in the coming months.
Furthermore, temperatures have become milder, with fewer people using air conditioning, for example. It has been raining a bit more than expected in this pre-season of the wet season. But it is not possible to know the volume of rain until the end of November.
A rationing would, of course, be an economic disaster, another one of the series that started in 2014, at least, which would lead to more unemployment and hunger. It’s important political news too. Jair Bolsonaro is being saved by the bell.’
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