Betting on Brazil for solar power, electric mobility

Bnamericas Published: Monday, December 12, 2022
Betting on Brazil for solar power, electric mobility

China's BYD has bold growth plans for solar power and electric mobility in Brazil, where it expects to invest 10bn reais (US$1.92bn) over the next three years. 

The company recently announced that it will support the construction of the first BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaic system) laboratory in the country, in partnership with the federal university of Santa Catarina state (UFSC). 

In the BIPV model, photovoltaic modules act as roof tiles and as shading elements on facades, in addition to generating energy. 

Meanwhile, BYD foresees increased sales of solar panels for centralized and distributed generation projects, including those associated with battery systems, as well as electric vehicles.  

BNamericas spoke with BYD Energy's sales director, Marcelo Taborda (pictured, left), and engineer and project leader with UFSC, Gustavo Carvalho (right), about how business is going in Brazil. 

BNamericas: What led BYD to make the investment in UFSC?

Taborda: We have a longstanding partnership with UFSC, at least since 2018, when we brought the double glass [photovoltaic] module technology to the university. This is a module with a 50-year lifespan, very different from what the market was offering at the time, which had lifespans of 25-30 years. 

But why did we take this partnership there? Well, BYD is a company essentially focused on technology, our DNA is R&D. We have more than 40,000 engineers and researchers around the world, of which over 80% have doctorates and post-doctorates. So, it makes perfect sense to take our technologies to large technological centers and universities, uniting the manufacturer with the institution that disseminates this knowledge. 

BNamericas: So both sides win, since undergraduate and graduate students can become interested in research linked to the areas in which BYD operates?

Taborda: Absolutely. This means having university students with a bachelor's degree in physics, chemistry or engineering doing doctoral or master's degrees in new technologies that are only feasible thanks to manufacturers like BYD that are present in Brazil. This fosters development in the market greatly. 

BNamericas: What's different about the new technology developed in partnership with UFSC? 

Taborda: We had a module with an attractive design that we realized could be used for facade design. So we came up with the BIPV concept, which we developed with UFSC, whose objective is to go beyond a module on the roof. Today almost all residential projects involve a conventional, single-frame, rooftop module with up to 670 watts of power. This new module made with UFSC goes beyond that. 

It means having a facade or a parking lot, for example, in harmony with the solar panel. 

Carvalho: The UFSC laboratory is focused on green hydrogen, whose production depends on a renewable energy source. That's why they chose solar energy for this function. And, instead of doing centralized generation, they tried to apply this laboratory with BIPV, which is photovoltaic technology applied to civil construction. 

The roof itself will be a [solar] panel, with sealing elements to prevent water from passing through and with a transparent backsheet to allow some light to pass through, in order to reduce power consumption, as well as modules with double glass to generate shade. 

This integration with civil construction reduces some of the energy generation and complements it with design and coverage. It’s optimized in terms of temperature and lighting, and the overall balance of the building is positive, generating more than it consumes, allowing the injection of surplus energy into the grid. 

BNamericas: Is the technology ready to be commercialized?

Carvalho: We're using the laboratory to validate the technology. We did the mechanical tests in the lab. Now we also have to comply with civil standards. The idea is to have this laboratory as a showcase for the product and get ahead in the market. 

BNamericas: How is the company's photovoltaic modules business going, in general?

Taborda: We opened our first factory in 2017, very much as a result of centralized generation projects. When we entered distributed generation, with national modules, we fostered sales of national modules in Brazil with resources from Finame [BNDES financing program]. Today BYD has more than 2mn modules installed in the country. We're the biggest national manufacturer. We’ve already brought in more than 5mn imported modules as well. 

Our plan now, with the solution integrating solar generation with storage in lithium batteries and electric mobility, is to grow even more. The outlook is very good.

BNamericas: What are the sales projections for 2022 and 2023?

Taborda: Our forecast for 2023 is 1GW of sales, compared to 800MW forecast for this year, considering domestic and imported modules. It’s a conservative forecast. We could reach 1.5GW or 1.6GW, as there are some projects in which we're participating with a capacity of 60MW to 100MW and some of up to 500MW or 600MW that take longer to mature. 

BNamericas: What are the prospects for the electric vehicle market?

Taborda: We’re an integrated company, we manufacture 100% of our products. We produce buses, trucks and light vehicles, and we also have joint ventures with companies like Toyota and Tesla to supply batteries. 

Regarding Brazil, our perspectives are the best. We entered the country with a position in luxury vehicles, but we also have more accessible products in our portfolio, such as a 100% electric SUV or plug-in hybrid, and by the end of next year we intend to have at least 200 dealers selling our vehicles. 

Furthermore, we’re already thinking about having assembly plants here. Brazil can be a hub for Latin America, exporting to the region. 

Outside of China, Brazil is by far the place where BYD invests most in the world. Here we have factories for electric vehicles, photovoltaic modules, and batteries. And new factories are apparently coming here. 

Stella [Li], our global vice-president, has already announced investments of 10bn reais in the country in the next 2-3 years. This is due to the growth of the solar market, looking at batteries, vehicles, everything that we really know how to do like nobody else does, investing in technologies and taking advantage of market opportunities.

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