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Portugal reaps the rewards of renewables in 2018

Posted by Alison Vickers on 22 August 2018 at 9:30 am

Our recent blog series has drawn attention to the countless renewable records being broken over the past 12 months. We’ve looked at green energy milestones across parts of the UK and around the world and now it’s time to shine the (low-energy) spotlight on Portugal!

It’s recently been announced that 31 new solar power plants will generate one Gigawatt of renewable power to this European nation. Jorge Seguro Sanches, Portugal’s Energy Secretary has vowed to triple the solar capacity in Portugal from the current 572 MW in 2018 to 1600 MW by 2021. 

Earlier this year in March, Portugal produced more electricity (4812 GWh) from renewables than it consumed (4647 GWh) – a surplus of 4.3%. We may think of Portugal as a perfect holiday destination because of its idyllic scenery and sunny coastlines, however the country is also idyllically placed to make use of a number of different types of renewable energy.   Until recently these have enjoyed more investment than solar energy.  For example in March 2018, the vast majority of the country’s electricity came from hydroelectric dams and wind, which contributed 55% and 42% respectively.

The highlands and mountainous regions in the north experience much higher levels of wind and rainfall, whereas the lowlands in the south benefit from a climate similar to southern coastal areas of Spain.  Hydroelectric power stations and wind farms have vividly altered the landscape from north to south, whereas solar is now being described as the ‘third wave’ of renewables in Portugal as the cost continues to fall and energy storage in the form of battery systems is becoming more widespread.

The Portuguese government has suspended annual subsidies of around €20 million for guaranteed power supplies paid to producers, the vast majority of which have gone to fossil fuel plants which are used merely as back-up power sources. It’s inspiring to witness such drive and support given to renewable energy by a national government. It just goes to show that a supportive political environment can aid greatly in the success of renewable energy projects.

By 2040, the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association predicts that renewable electricity will be able to cover the total annual electricity consumption of mainland Portugal. The expansion of renewable sources is expected to deliver social and economic benefits such as advancements in air quality and a boost in employment opportunities.

Of course, you could argue that comparing Portugal with the UK is like equating apples with oranges, given the differences in latitude, climate and geography. Our most plentiful renewable power sources here in the UK are solar and onshore wind, with hydroelectric power providing only 1% of GB electricity last year. Will our Government provide the solar industry with the support and certainty investors, installers and microgenerators need?  It’s hard to envisage in the current context, but let’s hope that our politicians enjoying the Parliament Summer Recess may learn some lessons from their holidays in the Algarve, which could be used to the advantage of the UK in our own clean energy transition.



Image Credit: Paulo Valdivieso


About the author: Alison joined The National Energy Foundation in 2017 as a Households and Communities Project Officer. With a BA in English and Politics and an MA in Environmental Politics from Keele University, Alison plays a key role in the delivery of the Better Housing Better Health service andGawcott Solar - two charitable projects coordinated by The Foundation. 

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