Portugal’s remarkable renewable energy milestone

Last week Portugal announced all their electricity needs was generated from renewable sources for more than four consecutive days. The lights were kept on using renewable sources such and wind, hydro, and solar for 107 consecutive hours from the 7th to the 11th of May according to official Portuguese government data. Good management and favourable weather conditions were cited in helping achieve this milestone.

Jean-François Fauconnier, renewables policy co-ordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, speaking to renewables news website Euronews said: “It’s really remarkable for Portugal because it was four days in a row and not only on a weekend but Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday, when industry is running at full speed.

“Some member states – Spain, Denmark or Germany – have reached near this level, but only briefly.”

“There’s big public support for wind energy [in Portugal], so that’s become really big in the last few years, and that’s mostly the explanation for why Portugal has come up to 100 percent renewable energy recently,” added Fauconnier.

“Solar power is only a small share of electricity production which is surprising for a country like Portugal, so there’s a lot more potential. Ocean power is also only in its infancy, there are some prototypes of wave power but it’s not being harnessed at the moment.”

Also speaking to renewables news website Euronews Francisco Ferreira, president of Portuguese environmental NGO Zero stated that creating stronger connections with primarily Spain but also the whole of Europe is crucial for helping grow the country’s renewable energy sector.

“Currently we are restricted to increasing renewable power because we may not manage to store and sell that electricity. It’s the reason why it’s really important to have the possibility to export this renewable energy.”

“Yes, there’s pride [in the energy generation milestone]. There are always people that question why the electricity prices are so high and why we had to invest in renewables. Those claims are decreasing because even solar now is not being subsidised.

“As an environmental NGO we want Portugal to stay on the zero emissions track. We have to combine policy with energy efficiency and renewables investment.”

Oliver Joy, spokesman for the Wind Europe trade association said of the announcement: “We are seeing trends like this spread across Europe – last year with Denmark and now in Portugal. The Iberian peninsula is a great resource for renewables and wind energy, not just for the region but for the whole of Europe.”

Also speaking of the news from Portugal James Watson, the CEO of SolarPower Europe said: “This is a significant achievement for a European country, but what seems extraordinary today will be commonplace in Europe in just a few years. The energy transition process is gathering momentum and records such as this will continue to be set and broken across Europe.”

Figures from the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association showed the in 2015 electricity from wind accounted for 22% of the country’s generation total and all renewable sources together accounted for 48%.

The country’s dramatic increase in clean energy production was spurred on by the European Union’s 2020 renewable targets although support schemes for new wind developments were reduced in 2012.

Despite this, Portugal added 550MW of wind capacity between 2013 and 2016, and industry groups now have their sights firmly set on the green energy’s export potential, within Europe and without.

Also figures for 2015 showed that carbon emissions had risen across the EU, including Portugal, from their 2014 levels which led to calls for the government to do more to shift to electricity generated from renewable sources.  

“An increased build-out of interconnectors, a reformed electricity market and political will are all essential,” Joy said. “But with the right policies in place, wind could meet a quarter of Europe’s power needs in the next 15 years.”

In 2015, wind power alone met 42% of electricity demand in Denmark, 20% in Spain, 13% in Germany and 11% in the UK.

Fauconnier added: “The UK and Netherlands are really far off track and will most probably not meet their targets. That’s why they are the states that have been fighting the most against national binding targets for renewables beyond 2020, because they know they are not going to meet them.”

107 hours of continuous 100% renewable energy usage is a remarkable feat and proves that with the right infrastructure such milestones can be achieved. With renewable energy and carbon emission targets driving these records it is likely that more will be set in the coming months.

However despite record breaking generation figures coming from Scotland the UK on a whole lags behind most of Europe in energy generation from renewable sources and carbon emission reductions. The targets set are legally binding and the costs of missing these high. However this is about more than financial penalties, if we do not meet these targets there are social costs as our legacy will be energy uncertainty and a more polluted environment. Is that really what we are offering our future generations?

 

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