Sugarcane bioelectricity supplies about 3% of Brazil’s current electricity needs. Experts expect that proportion to increase to nearly 15% by 2020, thanks to the spread of mechanized harvesting techniques that preserve additional plant matter to use as fuel in more-efficient generators. Such growth means renewable sugarcane will supply Brazil with more than 13,000 megawatts (MW) of energy later this decade that are neutral in greenhouse gas emissions.
For comparison, producing a comparable amount of electricity from fossil fuels would significantly increase carbon dioxide emissions.
|13,000 MW of Electricity||Tons of Carbon Dioxide|
|Coal-fired power||100.7 million|
|Oil-fired power||69.3 million|
|Combined-cycle natural gas||50.4 million|
Carbon neutrality and greenhouse gases reduction explain why bioelectricity is eligible for Certified Emissions Reductions (CER) credits under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
Brazil is a leader in using the CDM program to finance low-carbon projects, and electricity generation from bagasse (the dry, fibrous residue left after sugarcane is crushed) has been a primary focus. Bioelectricity projects represent nearly a third of the renewable energy projects in Brazil’s portfolio and will receive credits certifying the reduction of about 5 million tons of greenhouse gases by 2012.
Unfortunately, the Clean Development Mechanism has not lived up to the lofty expectations envisioned when the Kyoto Protocol was originally signed, nor has the program produced results at a global scale. This shortcoming is mainly due to methodological difficulties and administrative constraints. For instance, countries that took the initiative to promote clean technologies and adopt ambitious environmental policies pre-Kyoto are penalized, since those previously approved projects are not eligible for certified emissions credit because they do not fulfill CDM’s “additionality” requirement.
In 2010, a new methodology was established for biomass-to-energy projects. Since then, 43 Brazilian bioelectricity projects have applied for CDM validation but only one has been registered so far. Reducing current uncertainties associated with this methodology would certainly help to expand the benefits of sugarcane bioelectricity.