On 29 March 2023, Curitiba officially launched its Solar Pyramid, a landmark project representing the first solar plant to be built on a former landfill in Latin America.

The project was supported by C40 Cities Finance Facility (CFF), which recognises that one of the biggest barriers cities face when developing climate mitigation and resilience projects is access to finance. Through its focus on sectors including transport mobility, renewable energy, buildings, waste management, and nature-based solutions, the CFF serves a crucial role in helping cities access finance to deliver a green and just transition. 

Curitiba, alongside more than 30 other low-carbon and climate-resilient urban projects from around the world, received support from the CFF for a solar project using photovoltaic cells (PV) on a deactivated landfill site in Caximba, on the city’s southern outskirts, as well as technical assistance to develop rooftop solar projects on four bus terminals in the city.

Hundreds of solar panels fill a former landfill site in Curitiba
© Daniel Castellano / SMCS

The Solar Pyramid project has been an outstanding success. It serves as an example to cities across Brazil and Latin America of how to deliver clean, affordable energy while reducing a city’s dependence on an urban energy grid that is often reliant on fossil fuels. Curitiba sources almost the entirety of its energy from hydroelectric power, but due to frequent droughts, the city has to rely on fossil gas and coal plants to supplement energy shortages.

Before the project was given the green light, Curitiba was aiming to achieve energy resilience, reduce its dependence on the grid and increase its share of clean energy. The city was also looking to adopt a more sustainable model for financing a transition to renewable energy that could also be replicated at other sites throughout the city.

The Solar Pyramid project has delivered 8MW of installed energy capacity across Curitiba’s bus stations and landfill sites. It is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 90,000 tonnes in the 2020–50 period (equivalent to taking over 20,000 cars off the road for a year) and generate over US$ 500,000 in yearly savings accrued from replacing electricity usually purchased from the grid with solar energy production. As well as the significant energy and cost savings, the project also included a partnership between AB Solar, a local practitioners network, and the city to collect gender-disaggregated data on employment in the solar sector to better understand where gender-specific barriers to employment exist and enable greater gender inclusivity in the planning and implementation stages of the project.

Solar workers pose for a photo in a solar plant in Curitiba
© Daniel Castellano / SMCS

Curitiba has gained critical insight into how best to scale the project’s successes, with around 2,600 public buildings throughout the city deemed appropriate sites for a similar PV project. Key to the success of any similar project is close collaboration between different government departments from the project’s inception, adopting a holistic approach with internal and external stakeholders, identifying relevant environmental and tax laws, land titles and rights, and finding strong financial partners to secure favourable interest rates on financing.

Other cities have been inspired by the Solar Pyramid project, with Rio de Janeiro working on the Carioca Solarium project, using a public-private partnership (PPP)  a model that was also developed with the technical support of the CFF. The project will occupy a disused landfill site in Santa Cruz, to the west of the city. It will cover an area of 28,593 m², and will have the capacity to supply an estimated 9,180 MWh of electricity per year, enough to supply about five thousand homes. 

There is significant potential to scale up the programme even further outside the continent. In Mumbai, for example, solar PV panels are being installed on the rooftops of 27 bus depots and the surrounding areas to decarbonise the grid. The renewable electricity produced by these panels will power Mumbai’s fast-growing electric bus fleet. The city is aiming to electrify 100% of its fleet by 2026, in line with a net-zero aim for 2050 and Mumbai’s goal to achieve 44% emission reduction by 2040. In Cape Town, the CFF is working with the city to install a large-scale solar power plant, the first of its kind in South Africa. This will help the city become more resilient in the face of frequent blackouts, providing even low-income South Africans with affordable and reliable electricity.

Birds-eye view of hundreds of solar panels in Curitiba
© Daniel Castellano / SMCS

CFF has also provided technical support and advice to additional Brazilian cities – Belo Horizonte, Ponta Grossa and a consortium of several cities in the state of Paraná, referred to as Paraná Cidades – to implement solar projects based on Curitiba’s experience. Alongside this support, a total of 18 Brazilian cities (including 15 non-C40 cities) have expressed their interest by attending a series of conferences and seminars that shared the technical knowledge created by the Solar Pyramid project and identified how cities could apply Curitiba’s model to advance their projects. 

Other cities – Dakar, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur – are already starting to follow Curitiba’s lead, realising the potential to repurpose disused landfill sites for renewable energy, implement gender inclusivity and develop energy resilience. In so doing, cities can decarbonise their urban energy grid, and deliver a cleaner and more sustainable future for everyone.

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