Wednesday, August 7, 2013

final reflection

            Brazil is an incredibly colorful country, and I mean this in the sense that it’s multi-faceted: a country composed of diverse populations, vast territories, a colonial past, a booming economy, along with an energy-independent outlook—to give a brief blueprint of what I mean.  These attributes, absorbed over a month’s time, give Brazil the capability to strongly impress itself onto whomever wishes to take it all in. 
            My Brazilian Experience began with learning that no toilet paper can be thrown in the toilet—and that it’s a serious (serious) luxury to be within the reach of a sewage system whose capacity permits toilet paper in its piping network. Following this lesson came our language tutorial.  Now the Portuguese language is not Spanish, and though the two have overlaps, it isn’t sufficient no know just a little bit of Spanish and think “oh they’ll just fill in the gaps” (a mentality which certainly seemed to stand out amidst our group). Aside from Spanish, I noticed hints of Italian and French when listening folks speak Portuguese.  Anyways, during our language session, we learned basic words like “Je scupe” (excuse me), “obrigado/a” (thank you), and “bon gio/a” (good morning)—just the basics you see, allowing plenty to be learned within the hostel and through the CIEE members. 
            As for the city of Sao Paulo, it’s a colossal landscape of apartment high-rises, office buildings, and two-story houses whose driveways are gated from the outside.  Amidst these buildings is the network of roadways ranging from small graffiti-ridden alleyways to large highway status thoroughfares.  Traffic seemed innate to city, which I suppose is why small-duty helicopters is preferred by the affluent folks trying to get from one place to another. Parks, street trees, and boulevard greeneries were all quite common in many areas of the city.  Ibirupuera, the Central Park feel-alike near our Hostel allowed folks to breath cleaner air, exercise, enjoy the lawns, or simply experience the compress and release of space while wandering from the small pacing trails out into one of the many expansive fields.  Like mega-city, parks play a crucial role, and Ibirupuera fulfills the role of an urban green-haven: where you can escape the asphalt and concrete.  And I swear the temperature would always drop by a degree or two on entering the vicinity.

            The city of Sao Paulo has strong economic value.  More than once did I hear it described as “the economic engine pulling Brazil forward”, with a GDP per capita twofolds greater than any other region in Brazil.  As a state, Sao Paulo is responsible for one third of Brazil’s $2.47 trillion (USD) GDP—and I’m sure sugarcane/ethanol production plays a significant role in this figure, considering Sao Paulo State produces one fifth of the world’s ethanol (in 2008).  A city of 11 million people, Sao Paulo is estimated to be composed of 111 ethnic groups—by far Brazil’s most populated and ethnically diverse city.  There are also large concentrations of people from other nations: for example, the largest concentration of Japanese (outside of Japan) live in Sao Paulo.  
            While there, it was clear that the city was in slight turmoil—along with other areas of Brazil.  On our first tour with Gustav, we went by the City Hall and noticed how heavily protected the building was from the outside, as multiple policemen were standing guard.  But looking closely at the building’s fa├žade, we could see a few windows had been smashed in.  Riots had been occurring in Brazil for the past few weeks prior to coming—and they were most prevalent in large cities like Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro.  In Sao Paulo, the bus and train prices were increased by 20 cents, which, to the people of Sao Paulo, was the tipping point to take street action: to express many long-held frustrations regarding the socio-political-economic decisions being made by the government.  But at for the bus/train fares, there are Sao Paulo citizens who simply cannot afford to spend an extra 20 cents when having to use public transportation a couple times a day.  Furthermore, it’s clear that as it as, citizens living on the outskirts of Sao Paulo—one’s who need to commute the most—are also citizens living on minimal expenses, so these fare hikes are working directly against those who are most reliant on public transportation.
As I learned from Gustav and the newspapers, these fare hikes were implemented to raise money towards hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  As it turns out, Brazilians of (predominantly) the middle class are enraged about designating their taxes to develop large arenas across Brazil rather than putting it towards schools, hospitals, and other social welfare expenditures.  “It’s really scary man,” Gustav said to me during our first conversation, “we need hospitals this moment. What will happen when a soccer player injured himself? We’ll have no place to treat him!” Of course Gustav knows what to say to get his points across, but at least he puts it in perspective, albeit exaggerated. 

            Finally, these protests are directly attacking individual political figures who’ve been disfavored long before the fare hikes.  Corruption in the government, with hints of cronyism and nepotism, though sometimes very vague, seem innate to the Brazilian Government.  How has the son the former President Lula procured for himself the world’s largest beef company? This is one of Gustav’s complaints.  There is also the issue of Renan Calheiros, longstanding President of Senate who, just a few months ago, was petitioned to be expelled from office through Facebook—and in fact received more votes against him than the number he obtained during his election! I found that interesting.  Nonetheless, Calheiros remains comfortably seated in his senate position, so folks aren’t too pleased about that.
            We then discussed plenty about Brazil’s energy infrastructure, both in class and out of class. We learned that back in 1970’s, due predominantly to the Oil Embargo of 1973, Brazil promised itself to become more energy self-reliant, thus reducing its exposure to any foreign energy “shocks”, often occuring through political and economic reasoning.  This all occurred during the military regime, a so called “brutal” time period when the dictators had full say on what could and could not be developed—and as we learned in class, the hegemonic dictatorial mentality was to develop its own energy (self reliant) infrastructure while building its economy.  Conveniently, both these ends seemed to be met using Brazil’s natural resources. 

            I once read that Brazil’s territory covers roughly 49% of Latin America, possessing recognized wildlife reservoirs such as the Amazon. Brazil decided to utilize its fertile lands and rivers for economic development, constructing large-scale hydroelectric dams while yielding incredible amounts of sugarcane for ethanol and food additives. 
            Currently, Brazil owns the world’s 2nd and 4th largest hydroelectric dams, and is in the process of constructing the Belo Monte, which is estimated to be the world’s 3rd largest.  Itaipu is the world’s second largest hydroelectric dam, operating at an installed capacity of 14,000 MW.  Tucurui operates at a capacity of 8,370 MW.  Both dams caused communal upheaval in areas where flooding occurred.  Of course, communal resistance takes place amidst any dam construction, along with eventual displacement, flooding, groundwater contamination from the construction process, methane emissions from the flooded brush, disruption of migratory fish cycles (with consequential problems with food accessability).  But these seem to be the “small-scale” impacts; worries of larger magnitudes include inter-border disruption of water flow, which can inevitably lead to serious multinational turmoil.  Then there’s the question of who gets the electricity: does it go to the industrial sector, or to the residential sector?

 As we discussed in many of our classes, there are social, environmental, and economic “sphere” influenced by developments in the energy sector, whether positive or negative.  So what this trip to Brazil really reinforced is the necessity to weigh these pros and cons to understand what actually viable. With solar panels we find problems such as intermittency, heavy costs (long payback periods), energy-intensive construction processes, material competition (since silicon is highly valued for computer use), and, as we learned from the sub-secretary of energy, thievery! Cons for wind energy—which is bleak at the moment yet estimated to grow—basically comes down to intermittency, construction, and the NIMBY mindset, which stands for “not in my back yard”—implying the esthetically displeasing reality of living in sight of a large turbine; turbines are also known to depress real estate values as well.   
Actually visiting a hydroelectric dam, a solar plant, Bosch’s flex fuel engine facilities, and a methane capturing landfill was quite eye-opening.  Exposure to these processes required for modern living is a real experience, that is, to see all the labor and equipment required for modern quasi sustainable living.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

a warming collage

This week (Jul 21-28), there were two field trips. First we had our conference with Milton Lautenschlager, sub-secretary of renewable energy for the State of Sao Paulo. Lautenschlager is essentially in charge of implementing new plans for renewables; he's also a medical doctor by training. Some basic energy stats he gave us:
--the 2009 world renewable energy index is 12.5% of the total energy index
--Brazil's renewable index is currently 65% of its total energy index (predominantly from hydro)
--Sao Paulo State is at 55.5% (predominantly from biomass)
The State of Sao Paulo is seeking to reach 69% by 2020, while reducing emissions by 20% (this will likely be cut from either the transportation or industry sectors--which together constitute 87% of emissions). Gains are to be made through biofuels, wind, and solar resources. Biofuels will increase through the intensification of cane production.  Solar, whose tapped energy is still quite small, should rise significantly (Sao Paulo has an estimated 12 GW capacity for solar panels, which is the equivalent of Germany's currently installed capacity).  Dr Lautenschlager stressed Sao Paulo's role as the "economic engine pulling Brazil forward", reeling in 1/3 of the country's GDP. That said, the state is under pressure hit its renewable targets while meeting its consumption levels, which are projected to rise.  
The second trip was to the EcoUrbis Landfill, located about an hour and half east of Sao Paulo. This landfill stores waste beneath ground in layers, collecting the gasses that emit from the wastes.  It then condenses the gasses into liquids before selling it as a fuel.  We then visited a neighboring landfill, the Sao Joao landfill. I learned that it reached its capacity of 25 million tons back in 2008, and afterwards installed 16 CAT generators to produce 175 MWh per plant per year.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Foods I found at the Mercado include include Bacalhau do Porto (Portuguese Cod), Castanta do para intrura (Brazil Nuts), Tamara (dates), Provolone dehumado (dried provolone), Damasco (apricot), suco de milho verde (corn sugar milk), oregano (oregano), and malagueta (malagueta pepper)--all very interesting. I ended up buying some quality coffee, very tasty.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Homework #9--sites/conference review!

This past week, the class broke away from Villa Mariana and ESPM to visit two of Sao Paulo State's renewable plants, in addition to a Solar Expo and Bosch's Flex-Fuel engine manufacturing facility. We began tuesday morning with a trip to the CPFL Tanquinho Plant, which recently went "live" in 2012.  Located in the rural area of Campinas, the plant is estimated to produce 1.6GWh/year.  The facility uses two types of panels: monocrystalline and and polycrystalline silicon. I noticed many of the monocrystalline panels were fixed and face north-east, whereas the polycrystalline varied: some were fixed facing north, while others rotated on an east-west axis, which I found was cool. The polycrystalline panels have a efficiency peak of 14-15%, which is higher than the monocrystalline panels, yet more heat-sensitive, pre-disposing the polycristalline panels to efficiency depreciation during hot days.  That same day we visited the site where Bosch makes flex-fuel engines. We explored the facilities with technology built to develop and test flex-fuel engines for various brands of automobiles. Bosch engineers take regular gas-engines, and convert them into flex-fuel engines by developing idiosyncratic software systems and engine technology. Pretty tedious from the anthropologist's perspective.  What I found interesting during the lecture/meeting was the manufacturing forecast: Flex-fuels are predicted to peak in 10 or so years (2020-2025), before dropping back down to current levels as gas-engine vehicles develop better and better mileage systems.  Wednesday we attended a solar expo conference.  We wandered around in groups, exploring the different technologies being established by researchers/developers worldwide.  I saw an array of mono/poly-crystalline panels, fixed panels, flexible panels, batteries, solar windows, solar backpacks, solar grills, solar tents, and even technology built for testing/analyzing the performance of solar panels.  The level of modernization was stimulating, definitely got a nice buzz from it, and from the free drinks too! Finally, thursday we visited the Henry Bordon hydroelectric plant, built in 1920's.  The site consists of 16 turbines, that generate electricity using not the Francis Turbine, but the other one--yes the one that relies more on water pressure than water volume, and whose name escapes me. What interested me is that the majority of hydroelectric plants in Brazil abide by the courses of natural riverways, which is quite the accomplishment. Aside from this being the Tanquinho Plant's first year in use, it's evident that all of these technologies play effective roles in Bazil, as the country is seeking to produce more "self-reliant" energy to fuel its growing economy.  For instance, Brazil uses 75% of the ethanol it produces. America doesn't have nearly the renewable portfolio as Brazil, Brazil relies heavily on its hydroelectric and ethanol, for instance, whereas the U.S. is content with its natural gas abundance and petroleum importation. If anything, the U.S. uses renewables on a smaller scale.  Looking at hydroelectric plants, America has the fifth largest in the world--the Grand Coulee--generating roughly 6,800 MW of electricity at full capacity.  Brazil carries world's 4th and 2nd largest dams--Tucurui and Itaipu--generating a capacity 8300 and 1400 MW.  The Belo Monte Dam is in the process of being commissioned, and would be the world's third largest dam.  So in the Hydroelectric sphere, Brazil is huge, and this has its pros and cons. If the U.S. should adopt such an agenda, it should be weary of effecting the riverway's environment (fish migration, waterbed pollution, deforestation, methane release), while paying heed to social problems (resident displacement, access to water, mosquito infestations--which is real--, flooding potential, drought potential, and suffering drinking water quality).  The U.S. does have policies to help protect against such situations, such as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which basically keeps track of safety inspections while monitoring the dams' environmental affects.  However, the extent to which this policy's standards are held should be further investigated. But on the topic of the environment, the solar plant representative MOST expressed the company's concerns regarding environmental impacts; neither Bosch nor the hydro-plant expressed much regard.  And as for the solar expo, I assume environmental stewardship was simply Implied....