Beside the green pastures and sugarcane plantations surrounding the farming town of Porto Feliz is the strange sight of hundreds of blue, silicon panes turned towards the sun.
This solar farm, about 150 kilometers from Sao Paulo, produces electricity for around 40 homes and small businesses like restaurants and gyms.
Such “distributed generation,” or DG, operations are quickly multiplying in Brazil as investors bank on the long hours of strong sunlight across the continent-sized country, a late adopter of solar technology, and enjoy subsidies that have been pared back in countries like the United States.
Corporate and private investors are boosting solar panel production in one of Brazil’s few domestic manufacturing industries, as well as driving imports from China.
Brazil’s solar power industry group Absolar sees DG investments tripling to 16 billion reais ($3.64 billion) in 2020 from last year. Those installations should add 3.4 gigawatt of power generation capacity in Brazil this year, the group said.
The Brazilian unit of Chinese solar modules maker BYD is working around the clock to meet demand, said unit marketing director Adalberto Maluf. “We have almost 20 hours per day of production to meet the pipeline of orders.”
Canadian Solar has a plant in Brazil to assemble the modules with imported parts. Many Chinese companies, such as Risen, Trina, Jinko and Yingli, are also supplying the market.
ABGD, a local DG group, estimates that 17,000 companies are working with projects, including equipment makers, distributors and installers.
Financial incentives make solar energy much cheaper than the usual grid for investors and end-users. Last year Brazil’s power regulator Aneel wanted to scrap some subsidies, but President Jair Bolsonaro postponed any changes, maintaining the terms which Aneel argued favored solar users but penalized others.
With an investment of 12,000 to 20,000 reais, a home owner can install a small individual DG system that would operate for 25 years, paying for itself within about four years with savings from grid-power bills.