The food and agribusiness industry accounts for 35% of all jobs in the world and 10% of global GDP, according to the  Bain & Company study presented at the World Economic Forum in 2023, in addition to consuming about 30% of the planet’s energy production, according to data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). The Bain & Company study also found that transforming food systems will be critical to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and improving the nutrition and health of Earth’s 8 billion people.

At the same forum, the Brazilian Minister of the Environment, Marina Silva, an internationally recognized figure for combating environmental deforestation and preserving the environment, said that the country has the possibility and the challenge of tripling its agricultural production without cutting down a single tree.

This is no small feat, considering that Brazil is a world powerhouse in the food sector. The national food and beverage industry is the largest in the country, accounting for 10.8% of the Brazilian GDP, investing about R$ 13 billion annually and generating 1.8 million direct jobs. Globally, Brazil is the second largest exporter of processed foods in the world in terms of volume, and the 5th in terms of value.

As is the case with most of the global industry, the severe effects of the climate change phenomenon and the growing demand from society for the adoption of a more sustainable production model with less intense consumption of raw materials and energy also influence the food industry in Brazil and the world.

But what does the search for a production process with low environmental impact, friendly from the health and socioeconomic sustainability points of view, and less carbon-intensive have to do with electricity? The answer is…everything!

The manufacture of a sustainable food product considers the low emission of polluting gases in its production process. Considering that energy, together with raw materials and packaging, represent 60% of the total cost of food production, it is essential to optimize and make energy use more sustainable in this industrial sector.

Concerning energy consumption, the food industry is the second largest consumer of electricity in Brazil. According to the report by the Energy Research Company (EPE), in 2021, the segment used 23,417 gigawatt hours (GWh), or the equivalent of 13.1% of the industry’s total consumption that year, second only to the metallurgical sector, with 43,613 GWh, or almost 25% of the total [6]. To get an idea, the consumption of electricity by the food industry in 2021 corresponded to total energy consumption in the Southeast and Midwest regions of Brazil, for a month.

War

The effects of the war between Russia and Ukraine and the European energy crisis raised challenges for the global and Brazilian food industry. The imbalance in the world scenario led to an increase in the prices of agricultural raw materials, energy (mainly oil and its derivatives), and other inputs, such as fertilizers. Not by chance, in its annual report, the Brazilian Food Industry Association (Abia) found that the increase in production costs, boosted by the conflict in Eastern Europe, has been the greatest challenge for the sector in recent years.

In this complex and challenging scenario, the development of renewable sources has proven to be a way for the food industry to reduce production costs and, at the same time, achieve sustainability goals.

According to the Decennial Energy Plan (PDE) 2031, one of the most relevant studies on the expansion of energy supply in Brazil in the long term, produced by EPE, wind, and solar photovoltaic sources have proved to be economically very competitive compared to other technologies for electricity generation. In another study, EPE shows that the cost of implementing a photovoltaic solar source went from just under BRL 7,500/kW in 2013 to approximately BRL 4,000/kW in 2020. In other words, a reduction of almost 50%.

Photovoltaic solar technology follows the process of technological evolution and cost reduction. This can be proven by the results of energy auctions promoted in Brazil in the last decade. The average price of photovoltaic solar power in an auction held in 2016 was R$ 301.79 per megawatt-hour (MWh). Six years later, the average price was R$171.1/MWh.

Along the same lines, the regulatory environment of the Brazilian electricity market has generally favored industry investments in electricity generation, in the self-production model. EPE data indicate that large-scale electricity self-production will grow 37% over the next 10 years, reaching 78 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2031. Everything indicates that the expansion of self-production in Brazil will take place through renewable sources, mainly wind and solar technologies. In fact, solar power reached 26 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity in the country in 2023, with a growth of 83% in one year, consolidating itself as the second largest source of power generation in the country, ranking only behind hydroelectricity.

In this sense, the governments of several countries in the Americas, including Brazil, are developing policies and regulatory improvements to encourage the expansion of renewable energy generation that does not have carbon emissions and is low cost.

With an expressive portfolio of photovoltaic solar source projects in Latin America and a long history of work supporting companies in their internal energy transition processes, Atlas Renewable Energy is one of the largest developers of renewable sources plants in the region, being an important agent for contributing to the food industry in this sustainability journey. In Brazil, the company has more than 1.5 gigawatts (GW)  in installed capacity of solar photovoltaic plants in operation or under development and more than 1.3 GWof this type of plants under construction. In the country, medium and large consumers, in the commercial and industrial sectors, can contract energy in corporate PPAs (long-term energy purchase agreements), with the possibility of self-production from renewable energy generation projects. In addition, Atlas Renewable Energy also provides Renewable Energy Certificates (I-RECs).

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