Much of the lifeblood of Brazil’s economy flows through the Madeira River. The Madeira, one of the largest tributaries of the mighty Amazon, winds its way through the jungles of Brazil, carrying such cargo as the four million tons of grain that trace the river’s course each year on their way to Europe and Asia.
The river’s most essential product, though, might be one mainly for domestic consumption. Two of the Madeira’s huge hydropower plants near Porto Velho, in the country’s northwest, together generate 3,150 kilowatts of electricity. It is enough to help meet the ravenous energy appetite of the city of Sao Paulo and its 21 million people without producing carbon emissions or air pollutants.
The challenge was finding a way to transmit that power to the city, which lies nearly 2,400 kilometers away to the southeast. It is a route that takes a jet plane three hours to cover. Over such distances, high-voltage electricity doesn’t flow as easily as rice down a river, and it can lose considerably potency along the way.
But the global power and automation group ABB, which has been doing business in Brazil for 105 years, provided the solution: the company’s pioneering High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) technology.
The DC portion of that is key. The hydro dams at Porto Velho, like most power generators, produce alternating current (AC), which is the same form of electricity required for a power grid like Sao Paulo’s. But transporting electricity nearly 2,400 miles over the world’s longest transmission line would result in considerable transmission losses and higher infrastructure costs. There would also be an environmental impact on the Brazilian rain forest. The HVDC system has a narrower transmission corridor and minimizes losses along the way.
“In order to deliver clean power in the North, we need to bring this energy also in a clean way,” says Maxwell Pinto, ABB manager HVDC Service. “HVDC fits perfectly with this idea because it consumes less power, minimizes transmission losses and helps lower environmental impact.”
ABB’s HVDC technology, which the company pioneered and has been perfecting for six decades, has become the technology of choice for long-distance transmission projects that require delivering electricity from remote sources to populous urban centers. There are now about 110 ABB HVDC systems in use around the world.
In the case of Rio Madeira’s hydropower, when the DC electricity reaches Sao Paolo, ABB equipment converts it back to the AC format the city requires.
“It doesn’t matter if it is the final of the World Cup and everybody will switch on the TV at the same time,” Pinto says. “We must provide energy to consumers where and when it is required. ”
The Rio Madeira-Sao Paulo transmission link has proved its worth since it was commissioned in 2014. The system has helped Brazil achieve 65% of its generation capacity from renewable energy sources and will continue to grow.
“This project means a lot for the future of energy in Brazil,” says Pinto. “Rio Madeira is an important milestone in the evolution of the Brazil grid system into a greener system.’