Consumption, ‘sumption, what’s your function?

Brazil, as an emerging market economy, has significant and growing global influence in just about every measure. One of those is energy consumption.

In the last ten years, the country’s total consumption of energy has increased by more than a third, due to sustained economic growth.[1] It now ranks behind only the U.S. and Canada among countries in the Americas by level of consumption.[2]

Reducing how much energy is consumed has the same significance as how much energy is produced when it comes to the impacts we care about, from air quality and land conversion to global climate change. Importantly, the political palatability for improving energy efficiency seems greater than anything on the energy production front.

With production, vested interests insist that things stay as they are, and, with power and investment inertia on their side, not much is apt to change. Recently, for example, Brazil discovered large offshore, pre-salt oil deposits that are being tapped for more oil, which already accounts for 41 percent of its total energy production.[3] Meanwhile, wind and solar development using Brazil’s potential capacity remains mostly hypothetical, to the dismay of environmentalists.[4] There is only so much that can be done without power and inertia on your side.

But the discourse around energy consumption is more balanced and rational. If there are ways to reduce consumption without noticeably reducing quality of life, why not explore them? Less energy use means lower costs for businesses, not to mention governments and residents. Competitive advantage demands an open mind.

Recently, multinational IT firm Cisco entered into an agreement with energy firm AES Eletropaulo on the “most innovative Smart Grid project in the country, which AES Eletropaulo has launched in Barueri city, located near São Paulo capital.”[5] The project will reach nearly 250,000 citizens and enable automation of operations, faster identification and correction of grid failures and interruptions, customer tracking of energy consumption, and other possibilities such as renewable energy micro generation and application of differential taxes according to time of consumption.[6]

This pilot project represents an important step forward in Brazil’s energy future, building off a 2000 law that created an “Energy Efficiency Program requiring public power distributors to invest 0.5 percent of operational liquid income in energy efficiency programs, worth roughly USD 160 million per year.”[7]

An article late last year said that Brazil’s commitment to a low-carbon economy will “depend on whether there is enough growth to keep living standards on the rise.”[8] As far as I can tell, that does not need to be the case. Differentiating “between the “survival” emissions of the South and the “luxury” emissions of the North” is unnecessary.[9]

With a GDP still far below that of the U.S., Brazil must of course continue to grow. But with improved energy efficiency, energy consumption can be limited without limiting growth. Such change can result in real benefits for Brazil’s businesses, governmental entities, and residents, not to mention the global climate.

Brendan Hall
MPP/MS ’15


[1] “Brazil”. US Energy Information Administration. 29 December 2014 <http://www.eia.gov/countries/analysisbriefs/brazil/brazil.pdf&gt;

[2] “Brazil”. US Energy Information Administration. 29 December 2014 <http://www.eia.gov/countries/analysisbriefs/brazil/brazil.pdf&gt;

[3] “Brazil”. US Energy Information Administration. 29 December 2014 <http://www.eia.gov/countries/analysisbriefs/brazil/brazil.pdf&gt;

[4] “In Latin America, Growth Trumps Climate”. New York Times. 9 December 2014 <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/business/in-latin-america-growth-trumps-climate.html&gt;

[5] “AES Eletropaulo Chooses Cisco Technology for the Most Innovative Smart Grid Project in Brazil”. Cisco. 26 November 2014 <http://newsroom.cisco.com/release/1559384/AES-Eletropaulo-Chooses-Cisco-Technology-for-the-Most-Innovative-Smart-Grid-Project-in-Brazil?utm_medium=rss&gt;

[6] “AES Eletropaulo Chooses Cisco Technology for the Most Innovative Smart Grid Project in Brazil”. Cisco. 26 November 2014 <http://newsroom.cisco.com/release/1559384/AES-Eletropaulo-Chooses-Cisco-Technology-for-the-Most-Innovative-Smart-Grid-Project-in-Brazil?utm_medium=rss&gt;

[7] “Brazil: Minimum Performance Standards and Labeling to Improve Energy Efficiency”. Center for Clean Air Policy.

[8] “In Latin America, Growth Trumps Climate”. New York Times. 9 December 2014 <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/10/business/in-latin-america-growth-trumps-climate.html&gt;

[9] “Governing climate change: a brief history”. Chapter 1, page 29.


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