Senior decision-makers come together to connect around strategies and business trends affecting utilities.


Was the Amapá (Brazil) blackout well handled?

image credit: Globo
Rafael Herzberg's picture
Consultant energy affairs, Self employed

Rafael Herzberg- is an independent energy consultant, self-employed (since 2018) based in São Paulo, Brazil* Focus on C level, VPs and upper managers associated to energy related info, analysis...

  • Member since 2003
  • 2,220 items added with 1,294,889 views
  • Dec 19, 2020

Was the Amapá (Brazil) blackout well handled?

The Federal Government's official solution was to pay those affected by charging all other electricity consumers, which had nothing to do with what happened.

The specialized and even the most general media pointed out that the cause of the blackout was a lightning strike. It follows, therefore, that it is a "fortuitous event".

For all the offical agents of the national electricity sector such as the formulator of the strategies (ministry of mines and energy), the regulator and inspector (aneel), the local transmission and distribution companies, this thesis is a relief factor since they cannot be held responsible.

Do you agree with this posture?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 19, 2020

Rafael, I assume electricity ratepayers are ultimately charged to maintain Brazil's infrastructure. If so, it would fall under the category of maintenance, and I would assume ratepayers would be charged.

Now imagine if Enel Brasil had a subsidiary that it paid to maintain its transmission lines, and the subsidiary was building transmission towers that were designed to attract lightning strikes - the more blackouts, the more money it made.

In California this same crooked business arrangement makes it profitable to burn as much natural gas as possible to generate electricity.

Deregulation - the gift that keeps on giving.

Rafael Herzberg's picture
Rafael Herzberg on Dec 21, 2020

This "incident" should be "charged" to the ones who did not comply with the regulations. 

1. There should have been two backup step down transformers but in reality there were none

2. The local company was paid (by regulated rates) to have two backup step down but none were there

So the companies and institutions directly involved with this negligence should bear the blackout costs simply put because they were paid (rates) to have included two backup stepdown transformers. They decided not to install them, get the associated revenues (rates) and bear the risks. Why should the others pay for this open negligence?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 21, 2020

Rafael, as always in these situations there's a lot of blame to go around, and not being that familiar with electricity regulation/deregulation in Brazil - I'm guessing.

But the important questions to be asking are:

1) Were two stepdown transformers specified in the terms of the contract at the time of installation?
2) If so, was the work inspected by government regulators before the company was paid?
3) If not, were their absence the result of incompetence, or malfeasance, or poor maintenance?

Maintenance becomes an issue if the system is so old the need for two stepdown transformers was not understood at the time of installation. In that case no one was trying to skimp, or cheat anyone.

For an electricity utility there's always a conflict of how thoroughly-maintained a system should be. Maintenance costs money - and if a utility asks for higher rates to improve maintenance, ratepayers complain. If they don't improve maintenance, lightning takes the grid down. Ratepayers complain.

That's the only reason I resist blaming the utility. Government, in theory, is in charge of serving the public interest - for a utility monopoly, there's just no incentive. Nationalize electricity, and at least there's only one entity to blame.

Rafael Herzberg's picture
Rafael Herzberg on Dec 23, 2020

Hi Bob, thanks for your comments. The answers are:

1. Yes, additional step down transformers were specified
2. Yes, the inspection agency is always paid on time (it is a government owned and controlled institution)

This situations points to a very popular "scheme" -a sweet heart deal. All parties involved - in my opinion - are incompetent, simply because they did not do what they were supposed to do. In most such cases as opposed to investing in the transformers, the decision was not to and to accomplish this (in open light) as a Brazilian I am led to believe that money was paid to every other involved. It is a lot cheaper to pay them as opposed to install big transformers. 

This is Brazil!

Dr. Amal Khashab's picture
Dr. Amal Khashab on Dec 20, 2020

Yes , it is the majeure force , completely out of control.

Rafael Herzberg's picture
Rafael Herzberg on Dec 21, 2020

Hi Amal!

A lightining is - of course -out of control, but what stuck all of us who have an electrical engineering background:

  1. The city's  high voltage substation was operating with only one step down transformer (which caught fire by the lightning)

    But as per the aproved (by the regulator and independent system operator) specifications should have been operating with two backup step down transformers.

  2. This situation has been going on for years and as per showed by the midia, the regulaor the iso and the local distribution and transmissioin companies were fully aware of the ongoing lack of compliance of the susbtation
  3. As opposed to charging the blackout costs to those directly involved because of this lack of compliance, the choice was charging "al other Brazilian energy users" who actually had nothing to do with this negligence


Rafael Herzberg's picture
Thank Rafael for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »