Discover the new gold of Minas Gerais
By Priscila Brandao
When I was invited by Nextracker to make a documentary series, I thought, “Finally I’ll have a chance to witness revolutionary solar technology on a large-sized plant!”
The project had one goal: to showcase the development taking place in
the northern region of Minas Gerais thanks to the arrival of solar parks. We wanted to depict how this new endeavor brought about benefits to the daily lives of those communities.
Out of all possible locations, there was a good reason behind choosing the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais as our shooting spot — it is the leading state for centralized energy – or utility-scale generation across the country! Fortunately, the subject was not entirely unfamiliar to me.
As presenter of a podcast and an internet show hosted by ABSOLAR — Brazilian Association of Photovoltaic Solar Energy — for three years now, I have been able to grasp the potential of this industry. And it is no secret that Brazil is home to one of the world’s most optimum solar conditions.
Here’s the data: now, in May 2023, the country has just surpassed the mark of 29 GW of installed capacity combining centralized generation and distributed generation — the latter corresponding to coupled systems on roofs, buildings, parking structures, and small plots of land. It’s twice the energy generation of the Itaipú hydropower plant.
Centralized generation is responsible for 8.5 GW of installed capacity, thanks to new investments amounting to R$ 42.2 billion, according to ABSOLAR.
Besides, standing in the middle of those giant panels as my skin welcomes the same sunlight that converts into power was such a reinvigorating experience!
My film crew and I, together with Kristan Kirsh (Global Marketing) and Carina Barbosa (LATAM) from Nextracker, flew from São Paulo to the city of Montes Claros.
From there, we followed our journey by car to visit the solar parks of three cities located in the north of Minas Gerais, namely Pirapora, Várzea da Palma, and Janaúba.
Here, my experience of having spent 10 years reporting for Globo Rural — one of Brazil’s most well-known newscasts shows on rural lifestyle and livelihood activities — came in handy big time. I was prepared for a shortage of traffic signs, dusty dirt roads, and the days spent carrying suitcases of clothes mixed with state-of-the-art production equipment.
And, whoa, it was HOT.
The unmistakable heat of the north of Minas Gerais welcomed us with all its warmth. One day, I looked at the thermometer and it read 46°C (115°F). At 6:30 PM!
We were recording at sunset, which resulted in dazzling footage depicting the contrast between natural light and the solar panels.
Facing the Unknown
We had to wear PPE — personal protective equipment — at all times. Boots, snake shin guards, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, reflective vests, sunglasses and helmets were key elements to ensure our safety. Now, considering that our production crew is used to filming in light clothing for hot weather, the protection paraphernalia was an added challenge!
But no one complained.
After all, it was the safest way to enter the park and walk among the long lines of ground-mounted solar panels on top 1.5 meter (5 feet)-high metal framing. Not to mention that snakes, spiders and even jaguars are frequent visitors.
Do you think I’m making it up?
Well, before leaving the headquarters of all three plants and venturing into the solar parks, we’d be officially briefed again and again on the same hazards!
It is forbidden by law to touch solar equipment as the power generated by the modules flows from the equipment to the substation. Subsequently, that power gets distributed to the power grid.
We were also never alone as a crew. Plant staff members were always escorting us into the parks.
One day, the car I was in with the director of photography, Gustavo Mittelmann, and the facility director, Eduardo Rosa, got lost from the other cars simply because of the dust raised by the car in front of us. Gladly, we were soon found.
Venturing into the solar power plants alone is a no-go. This is due not only to safety reasons but also because of the sheer size of the plants! Just to give you an idea, one of the complexes has an area of 3,000 hectares — the equivalent in size to 4,300 soccer fields. Kristan, our American crew member confirmed that it’s as large as New York City.
Cutting Edge Technology
The most amazing thing was to be able to understand how the solar tracking technology developed by Nextracker works.
For certain geographies and conditions, panels are in a fixed tilt position. The advantage of having moving panels is that they track the sun’s daily path across the sky from dawn to dusk for additional energy harvest.
Additionally, on the newest plants, modules are bifacial. They extract energy both from the top side — directly from sunlight — and the bottom side, capturing the light reflected from the ground – called albedo. This is made possible because the technology itself was conceived in a way such as to reduce the shadow formed on the ground. The light-tracking feature increases energy production by an average of 30%, depending on the region. Moreover, the whole operation is automated — a piece of software communicates with a tiny cable-free box located on the panels’ metal framing. A mechanical system autonomously rotates the modules based on an algorithm, which weigh up to 40 kg (90 pounds) each. During the night, the modules lie dormant in a safe position to prevent possible damages caused by strong winds or adverse weather conditions.
All of the above-listed reasons would have made this project worth my while. But the journey had much more in store for me!
I’ve been able to meet superbly qualified professionals who, in addition to having worked abroad, happen to master such a peculiar responsibility — managing heaps of cutting-edge engineering. We were also fortunate enough to be with special people from the very communities where the plants happen to be installed. The arrival of the solar parks affected everyone’s lives, somehow. But that will be the subject of our next chapter here on the blog — stay tuned!
I have yet to mention sustainability — a subject closely related to this experience and very dear to my heart.
This “solar photovoltaic universe” indeed fosters a better planet for us all! Being there, on site, made me truly realize that everyone is involved in this collective benefit — from those responsible for the construction work to the city dwellers. Everyone embraces the cause with great pride! After all, we all benefit from this clean and renewable energy source, which is also net zero in greenhouse gas emissions, knowingly so harmful to Planet Earth.
Photovoltaic solar energy also means access to electricity in remote areas. It allows for a noticeable reduction in electricity bill costs for households and businesses.
It creates both direct and indirect employment opportunities. And all of that taking environmental sustainability into account. To put it short, solar energy already is a fundamental part of our collective energy transition.
Data from ABSOLAR shows that since 2012, solar energy has brought R$ 143.9 billion in new investments to Brazil, created more than 870,000 jobs, and generated more than R$42.8 billion in revenue for the government.
It is undoubtedly a good start. I’ll always cherish the memory of those 10 days of thrill and wonder at each sunrise!
And, at every sunset, a new source of hope.
Solar Power Impacts Lives.
Investing in Our Communities
Building a Sustainable Future