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Portugal runs entirely on renewable electricity for four days!

Posted by Alex Barrett on 23 May 2016 at 11:45 am

May of 2016 has been a great month for renewable energy. For 107 hours last week all of Portugal’s electricity demand was met by renewable sources [1, 2]. This announcement comes just after the news that Germany met almost all of its electricity demand from renewables for a day, and that the UK briefly didn’t burn coal during a few low demand periods.

A number of factors have allowed this unprecedented peak in renewable energy. The weather across Western Europe was very favourable for renewable generation.  In particular using the wind and solar sources, which Portugal and Germany have in abundance. The warmer weather also meant that there was a drop in heating demand, so less energy was being used overall.

Portugal’s electricity sector was able to capitalise on this high renewable energy generation. They used some excellent demand management to get their country running on entirely renewables for a record breaking period of time. Between 6.45 am on 7 May and 5.45 pm on 11 May they didn’t emit any greenhouse gas due to electricity generation. There would still have been emissions from vehicles, but this is a massive step forwards in emission reduction. It was made possible by very high adoption of renewable energy over the last few years thanks to extensive government support.

In a statement the ZERO Sustainable Land Association said: “These data show that Portugal can be more ambitious in a transition to a net consumption of electricity from 100% renewables, with huge reductions of emissions of greenhouse gases” (Translated from the Portuguese courtesy of Google) [3].

Portugal is leading the field, but other countries are also taking great strides towards a more sustainable energy sector. In Germany 95% of electricity demand was met by renewables on Sunday, 8 May. This caused electricity prices to briefly become negative, with people effectively being paid to use renewable power [4]. 26.11 GW was generated form solar sources, while wind provided 20.83 GW. Combined with smaller contributions from biomass and hydro power this was enough to meet the Germany’s 57.8 GW electricity demand [5]. As with Portugal this was made possible by sunny days with strong wind speeds across the country.

In the UK we are a long way from being able to sustain our electricity demand with renewables, but we are using less coal than ever before. On the tenth of May electricity from coal briefly dropped to zero for the first time since the industrial revolution [6]. This was followed by a few more periods where no coal was used over the following days. This was only during low demand periods, such as the middle of the night when less electricity was needed.

Unlike Portugal the UK was mainly using gas during these periods, rather than clean energy sources. Nonetheless it is an important step towards creating a greener energy sector. The UK plans to phase out use of coal by 2025 [7], and the share of renewable energy in the fuel mix in both the UK and beyond is growing all the time. In 2015 Scotland generated 57.7 % of its electricity demand from renewables. They hope to produce all of their electricity from renewables by 2030 [8].

Hopefully it won’t be long before such low emission periods become more common place, and Europe can power its electricity grid with renewables on the more regular basis.

Image Credit: Portuguese Flag by fdecomite via Flickr

References

  1. The Guardian: Portugal runs for four days straight on renewable energy alone.
  2. Gizmodo: Portugal just powered itself exclusively on renewable energy for four whole days.
  3. Zero press release (In Portuguese)
  4. Science Alert: Last Sunday 95% of Germany’s energy was provided by renewables.
  5. Electrek: New milestone: 95% of German electricity provided by renewables on Sunday at 11 AM
  6. The Guardian: UK energy from coal hits zero for first time in over 100 years.
  7. Gizmodo UK: UK power generation to go coal free by 2025.
  8. Science Alert: Scotland generated more than half of its electricity in 2015 from renewables.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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