Electric Vehicles, Solar Energy & Wind Energy — My Trip To Brazil


Last week, I spent some time visiting my wife’s family in Recife (northern Brazil). While there, I spent some time checking out where they are on the path to electrifying transportation and greening their electrical grid. Brazil has the 12th largest economy in the world, just behind South Korea and Russia and just above Australia and Spain. It hasn’t really been a leader in the transition to sustainable energy, but there are some recent developments that could give us hope that that will change. In the recent presidential election on October 30, the Brazilian “Bernie Sanders” Lula da Silva narrowly defeated the Brazilian “Trump” and current president Jair Bolsonaro. Lula is expected to be more aggressive at protecting the Amazon rainforest from deforestation, the biggest source of carbon in the country. Encouragingly, in Brazil, both candidates supported offshore wind, which has a lot of potential in northern Brazil! It will be great when we get that sort of bipartisan support for solar and wind in the US.

Pictures from Brazil with Some Commentary

At the mall, I saw this electric scooter. I’m not sure how it would do on streets that have a lot of potholes. I would prefer larger wheels.

At the same mall (the only one in Recife), they had two J-1772 plugs. Overall, the metro area of over 4 million people has very few public chargers.

The BMW iX crossover starts at about $134,000 in Brazil — so it is out of reach for even most of the wealthier people of Brazil.

While downtown checking out a museum, I found an electric Renault Zoe, which costs about $48,000, still too expensive for the small car. Renault has announced it is bringing the small hatchback call the Kwid to Brazil for about $29,000. At that price, it will be competitive for wealthy early adopters to buy.

The BYD Tang, which starts at $45,000 in China, costs about $105,000 here, likely due to massive tariffs and shipping costs. I was impressed with the interior quality. They offered to let me drive it but after 24 hours in a plane, I didn’t feel up to the task.

Front view of the massive 3-row Tang.

The BYD Song Plus DM-i is a plug-in hybrid with 51 km of electric range and starts at about $54,000.

Song front view.

BYD is opening up dealerships in all the major cities of Brazil to prepare for a major expansion of sales. BYD has opened 10 locations (through dealers) so far and has plans to expand that to 100 by the end of next year.

BYD will be much more competitive in the future when it begins building cars in Brazil, avoiding the tariffs and shipping costs as well as possibly gaining local subsidies for bringing jobs to areas that Ford has recently abandoned.

This is a poor picture of the solar panels on my wife’s brother’s home, but you can see them if you look closely. This set of panels only cost $8,000 to install and will save over $2,000 a year in electricity costs, so he expects breakeven in less than 4 years and a greater than 20 year life on the setup (the inverter will probably have to be replaced after 10 or 15 years, though). Solar has been available there for about 6 years, but he wasn’t willing to install it until the companies had a bit of a track record.

When you install solar, you have to put a sign on the meter warning them it produces power, so the workers know to be careful during any maintenance and repairs.

The homeowners association has a big solar installation on the roof of their party room and exercise center.

Wind turbine parts. I took this photo on the way back from the Port of Chickens. They ship them in there and then truck them all over the north of Brazil to install them.

Conclusion

I’ve been to Brazil 7 times since 1989, and the country has always proven to be innovative in its auto production. For a time, Brazil thought that ethanol from sugarcane was the answer. Then they had many high-use vehicles convert to propane to reduce running costs. Now, it looks like the combination of low-cost solar and wind (in combination with great hydroelectric resources) will allow them to dramatically lower the cost of electricity from about 20 cents a kWh to 10 cents/kWh or even lower over the next decade or so. Building electric cars in Brazil or importing them from countries they have free trade agreements with will greatly lower the cost of electric vehicles. This will help them to electrify their transportation.

I don’t have much insight into the rainforest situation, since that isn’t discussed much by the people I interacted with on this trip. I have an upcoming trip to the southern part of Brazil. If I discover more information, I’ll write another article on what I learn.

Disclosure: I am a shareholder in Tesla [TSLA], BYD [BYDDY], Nio [NIO], XPeng [XPEV], and Hertz [HTZ]. But I offer no investment advice of any sort here.


 

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