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Interview of the month: Angela Livino

Electric sector needs to be better prepared for climate change, says Angela Livino, EPE water engineer and expert

For more than 20 years, Angela Livino, a civil engineer and expert in water resources and environment, has focused on the planning and expansion of the national electricity sector. He is currently Chief of Staff of the Presidency of the Energy Research Company (EPE), where she has been operating since 2005. Angela, who migrated early to the energy sector and has a master’s and doctorate in water resources, says that the Brazilian energy matrix will remain clean, despite the possibilities of pre-salt natural gas exploration. About Brazil, she defends the thesis, in this interview with the Instituto Escolhas, that, in times of water scarcity, the most fragile basins need to receive a different look and be treated as a priority. As climate change will intensify water conflicts, the power sector needs to be increasingly prepared for the new hydrological scenarios that will emerge. 

Instituto Escolhas – In the case of climate change, how is the electricity sector preparing?

Angela – Climate change, as I see, will intensify possible conflicts over water use that already exists. Since the resource becomes scarce because of extreme weather events, because of major droughts as we have been living, all water-using sectors come to discuss the problem and the electricity sector needs to prepare for this scenario as well. This has already been done to some extent by diversifying the matrix. If 20 years ago 95% of the matrix was hydro-dependent and today that rate has dropped to 65%, there has been a preparation to have other resources at the time of scarcity. The very use of reservoirs by the electricity sector as compensation for times of scarcity may not work very well because, at critical times, they are a balancing element for all uses. In the São Francisco basin, for example, there are other restrictions associated with water abstraction. At critical times, in federal basins, the National Water Agency (ANA) may act arbitrarily and decide that the electricity sector is not the priority in reservoir use. In the case of climate change for the electricity sector, we are working on water scarcity scenarios trying to simulate what new resources would need to be inserted into the matrix to assist in times of extreme drought. 

Escolhas – How to reconcile electric power generation with socio-environmental dimension? Do the Ministries of Mines Energy (MME) and Environment (MMA) need to talk more in the case of the implementation of new hydroelectric plants?

Angela – I started my thesis a little with this bias of greater integration between MMA and MME. Within the electricity sector, it has this idea that the major obstacle is the environmental sector. But I came to realize that MMA is very present and it would be interesting for it to participate in the initial studies, inventories, more effectively. But what we really need is a great integration. Today, for example, the Ministries of Regional Development (MDR), Agriculture, Livestock and Supply and Mines and Energy talking together will make a breakthrough. All three need to look at a reservoir as an instrument of development and in dialogue with the MMA to enable appropriate mitigation and compensation processes. With a glance at the electricity sector, and this is my current speech, it is very difficult to make new hydroelectric plants feasible. Even if it broadens and improves dialogue with the environmental sector, there is a counterargument that is legitimate. If I have so much wind and so much solar, why do I need more reservoir? If I have pre-salt gas economically regardless of emissions, although they need to be discussed as well, why do I need a reservoir? We need to understand that the reservoir is not the only source, we have others, but the reservoir, even in new plants, remains crucial for the country in strategic terms. One of the biggest products of a reservoir is climate resilience.

Escolhas – There is no way to talk about water resources and the environment without touching on the “Amazon” theme.  For a long time, the implantation of new plants has been discussed. In the discussion: hydroelectric and development in the Amazon, what is possible to do? How to reconcile?

Angela – We have a big challenge. When we talk about Amazonia it is important to say that when mentioning the hydroelectric power plants it seems that they have no reservoir, but often have, which tend to be smaller for a number of characteristics, but they do exist. We have great difficulties in setting up plants in the region due to social and environmental conditions. We are talking about a still unknown biome that is of great social value. Often, depending on the region, the installation of a plant will not have advantages in terms of regional development. We have recent examples of major ventures that were made in the Amazon that left lessons. Planning always leaves a message. This does not mean that one should not do it anymore, but it certainly has to be done differently. We are learning and trying to build in the best way. 

Escolhas – In your doctorate, you studied the importance of reservoir hydroelectric plants. What is their importance for the Brazilian context?

Angela Livino – A regularization reservoir, in the case of the electric sector, is a guarantee of steady, continuous energy for a constant period. By approaching water resources, however, the reservoir must ensure supply for a large period, a year or more, for example. This broader view encompasses water for human supply and economic development as a whole. In my thesis, an important discussion that has arisen is about the perception that the more developed and rich countries have a higher degree of regularization. Exposure to water scarcity generates weakness, including competitive and even commercial and human inequality. A country more exposed to large and long droughts is subject, for example, to agricultural breakdowns. The importance of a reservoir in a broad way is very great for the economy as a whole. 

Escolhas – In terms of water resources what is the main challenge that Brazil needs to face?

Angela – The country needs to recognize the differences that exist between regions and value studies that identify the water fragility of certain regions of Brazil and give the appropriate treatment for it. Identify and recognize, for example, that the São Francisco, Jequitinhonha and Tocantins basins have a water scarcity, have a dispute over the use of very strong water and that, therefore, they must be given greater attention, many sometimes to the detriment of standardization that treats everyone equally. This reflection is very worthwhile. We need to look at the differences, because we will need to prioritize some basins that have greater water fragility. 

Escolhas – You participated in the initial discussion of the study recently launched by Escolhas on Water Pricing for the Electricity Sector. Do you think it is necessary to give an economic signal for water resources?

Angela – I have a vision, and I may venture to say, as a student of the water sector, of the importance of water valuation in creating a culture that it is a finite resource or that it needs to have a control associated with its use. The economic valuation of water generates a very strong educational character. On the other hand, we have a society with great inequality in certain regions of Brazil. For this reason, perhaps the universality of charging is not appropriate. I speak not only in relation to the social strata, but in terms of the same geographical regions. On the issue of water governance, I have a hard time figuring out what a compulsory water charge would look like for all river basin committees, since they have different maturation processes. 

Escolhas – Speaking of the future, what are the main points you would highlight from the PDE (Decennial Energy Expansion Plan) with the horizon in 2029?

Angela – The highlight is the maintenance of the renewable profile of the electric and energy matrix. Because, the development of biofuels, from the point of view of the energy matrix, has prospects for advancement. So as there is the possibility of natural gas advances due to the pre-salt. Not necessarily with all the result, in this case, being obtained by 2029, within the horizon of the current plane. There are processes that will mature after a decade. Undoubtedly, the main highlights are the maintenance of the renewable matrix, with a large share of wind power in the electrical matrix and mainly distributed generation, in addition to solar.

Escolhas – The fact that there is this possibility of natural gas advances due to the pre-salt will not compromise the Brazilian energy matrix in order to be less clean?

Angela – No. Increasing the installed capacity does not mean that it will generate that same proportion. Our matrix is ​​very strongly hydroelectric and also wind and solar. The thermal sources come into the equation more to give security to the service. It does not mean that it will generate all the time, but only when it is needed.  

Escolhas – Do you agree that the Brazilian power generation park is obsolete and needs modernization?

Angela – I can’t even classify our park as obsolete. Much of it has received investments in modernization. It also has good prospects for future modernization projects. In fact, one of the lines that we are stimulating the debate, and we recently made a technical note about it, concerns the opportunities for modernization of the plants to meet a better power profile. Some plants may be candidates for this type of modernization. Hydroelectric power plants are often well sized to meet power generation, but they still have some slack to increase installed capacity and generate more power at certain times of the year. Our park began to be built more robustly in the 1960s, and many plants have undergone modernization. Others are passing. But attention needs to be paid to regulation and eventual stimuli to make these modernization processes a little faster.