I spent this past week in the city of Belém, the capital of the state of Pará. The main purpose of my trip here was to meet with a team of electrical engineers who work at UFPA, the Federal University of Pará. GEDAE (Grupo de Estudos e Desenvolvimento de Alternativas Energéticas Group of the Study and Development of Alternative Energies) is a team consisting of university professors, researchers, outside consultants, technicians, undergraduate and graduate students, who work on the development of renewable energy technologies. Upon arriving at their building on the UFPA campus yesterday, I was excited to learn more about their projects given that the front lawn was covered with an array of different solar panels. Manoela accompanied me for this first meeting and overall, it left me feeling optimistic about our project. We met with three members of GEDAE, João Tavares Pinho, Marcos André Barros Galhardo and Edinaldo José da Silva Pereira (Sounds more like six people, right?). The conversation gave Manoela and I the opportunity to delve deeper into the specifics of the Gira-sol project. Given the fact that I am not an electrical engineer and have been attempting to teach myself the technical aspects of solar energy through a 500-page manual in Portuguese, I wanted to address some important concerns. Should we install a system connected to the grid or an independent system with a battery? What is the difference in cost? Does Brazil have a permitting process for solar projects of a certain size? Is it possible to have a system installed where more than one residence can reap the benefits of clean energy? And most importantly: are there any other nearby solar projects that we could visit? In subsequent meetings throughout the week I was able to get most of my questions answered, but in this first encounter my lack of Portuguese was a bit of a frustration.
The members of GEDAE understandably had many questions about where the panels would be located, but they were also interested in knowing why we wanted to install them. I actually received this question numerous times when describing the project to other friends here in Belém. I can see why, for technical reasons, GEDAE would want to understand our objective or intentions- so they can better evaluate what type of project is reasonable. But I was a bit surprised at how many people questioned why we were trying to install solar panels in this community…Why not? The movement toward solar energy is weak in Brazil, let’s change that! The first meeting ended with plans for some members of the team to visit Marabá and carry out a site assessment. We also arranged a second meeting later that week, where I would get an inside look into some of GEDAE’s current and completed solar projects.
Yesterday I met up with Dr. Luis Blasques, who showed me some solar panels installed on the roof of an office building for an industrial social service company. It’s difficult to tell how large the panels are from the picture below, but there were about five other panels of the same size on this roof. Despite their size, they only contribute 10-15% of the electricity use in the entire building! At first I was surprised and a bit disappointed, but this is understandable if you think about how many appliances are running at the same time in building (air conditioning, lighting, computers, etc). Aside from the panels themselves, Luis showed me the inverter and consumer units inside the building. He offered some helpful advice and important considerations we should take into account when deciding what type of system we would like to install.
Next I headed back to the GEDAE building to meet with Pedro Henrique Alves Veríssimo, a chemical engineering student working with the group. He gave me a tour of the different solar projects GEDAE is developing on site. For example, the first picture below shows a series of different solar panels. This project was evaluating the efficiency of monocristalline, polycristalline and amorphous panels and the different manufacturers of these panels. Later in the tour I even had the opportunity to visit a solar powered boat! The boat will be used to transport children living in isolated communities to their school. Unfortunately, it is currently out of commission after suffering some damages on the trip back from an exhibition in Rio de Janiero. I am very thankful to all of the members of GEDAE for taking the time to show me their projects and I look forward to meeting them again at the end of October in Marabá.