Solar power projects reduce bills in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas

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Owner of the Eco Pousada Estrelas da Babilonia hostel, poses on his rooftop covered in solar panels and overlooking Copacabana Beach in the Babilonia favela. — AFP photo

Saturday, April 30, 2022 7:09 p.m. GMT

RIO DE JANEIRO, April 30 – In a hillside slum with sweeping views of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana Beach, a rooftop covered in photovoltaic panels glistens in the tropical sun – one of many energy projects of the first favela in Brazil.

Solar panels on the roof of a community organization in the Babilonia favela take one thing the poor neighborhood has in abundance – the sun – and use it to reduce electricity bills while expanding renewable energy sources .

The 60 panels supply electricity directly to the network. In return, the utility company offers 34 families participating in the cooperative a well-deserved reduction on their bills.

Another 44 signs sit atop private businesses, including a local hostel, which also get discounts as part of the co-op.

“Favela dwellers too often have to choose between paying their electricity bills and buying food,” says cooperative manager Stefano Motta.

“More and more residents come to us to complain about their electricity bills, sometimes 600 reais (RM544) per month or more.

We use it to raise awareness of the importance of solar energy for the economy and the environment,” says the 45-year-old Italian, who moved to Rio ten years ago and now lives in Chapeu Mangueira, the favela next to Babilonia. , which also participates in the cooperative.

The project was launched last June by community leaders and a non-profit organization called Revolusolar.

This comes at a critical time for favela dwellers struggling to pay their bills. According to the National Electric Energy Agency (ANEEL), the average price of electricity for residential customers in Brazil is expected to increase by 21% this year, after increasing by 7% last year.

Marcia Campos, a 51-year-old social worker who lives in Babilonia, explains that before joining the solar cooperative, she struggled to pay her electricity bill, which had risen to nearly 500 reais per month, or about half of the Brazilian monthly minimum. salary.

“Now my (bill) is around 260 reais a month, sometimes as low as 180” during particularly sunny months, she told AFP.

electricity crisis

Last year, two key hydropower-producing regions in Brazil were hit by their worst drought in nearly a century, narrowing the rivers that feed dams producing nearly 60% of the country’s electricity supply.

This has sent authorities scrambling to turn on more expensive thermal power plants to compensate.

But clean energy proponents say renewable energy sources are a better option for the economy and the environment.

In the favelas, solar is also an alternative to dangerous and clandestine electricity connections called “gatos”, which residents use to illegally connect their homes to the grid.

Electricity utilities estimate that the common practice costs R$1.5 billion a year and contributes to higher prices for everyone else.

rapid spread

Brazil currently derives only 1.8% of its energy consumption from solar power.

But residential solar power generation from projects like Babilonia’s is “growing very rapidly,” says Carlos Aparecido, a professor of electrical engineering at Rio de Janeiro State University.

Solar power generated an average of 878 megawatts in Brazil in 2021, up 29.3% from 2020, according to the electricity grid operator, the National Interconnected System (SIN).

Solar is becoming increasingly popular in Rio’s favelas, home to nearly 1.4 million of the city’s 6.8 million people.

“For the poor, it’s a sustainable alternative to paying high electricity bills,” says Aparecido.

In Vidigal, another iconic favela with stunning views of the Rio coastline, a community organization called Ser Alzira launched a solar panel project in December, using a cooperative model similar to that of Babilonia.

“We really needed them,” says Elma de Aleluia, the organization’s founder, who bought the panels with private sector donations.

“Thanks to the electricity bill savings, I have money to spend on our other projects.” — Studio ETX

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