Connection to a mains electricity grid is an important achievement for many isolated populations across the globe. However, connection is not enough. Supply also has to be reliable. In many countries it is not. Take, for example, the arable and livestock farmers of the sparsely populated state of Rio Grande do Sul, in Southern Brazil. Unreliable electricity supply from the grid was limiting their capacity to make a living from their produce – poor power supply meant poor refrigeration and idle machinery.
But a solution was close at hand. Local rivers offered the potential for local run-of-river hydro schemes which could divert flow without the need for building large dams. Costs could be kept lower than usual for such schemes because the local distribution system already existed.
The scheme was devised and run by the Cooperativa Regional de Eletrificação Rural do Alto Uruguai Ltda (CRERAL). It is of many cooperatives in Brazil managing local electricity supply, and its 6500 members are also its customers. CRERAL was able to fund most of the capital cost of the two hydro schemes itself, with some help from the regional public bank. Customers pay a tariff and together with carbon financing the income from electricity sales will cover costs within seven or eight years. By 2009 hydro generation was supplying 36% of members’ demand whilst reducing CO2 emissions by over 1,500 tonnes/year.
And it is a model that is flourishing with similar and larger schemes under development. Meanwhile in Rio Grande do Sol living conditions and earning potential have improved. The milking machines and the fridges are no longer idle.