For four and a half days between 6.45am on Saturday 7 May 2016 and 5.45pm the following Wednesday the country of Portugal ran entirely on electricity generated from wind, hydro and solar power renewable energy sources. The Guardian has labelled it “a remarkable achievement” and reports that Portugal’s interest in renewable energy dates back to 1970.
Over the course of 2016 renewable energy has been responsible for 59% of Portugal’s electricity production with the remaining 41% coming from fossil fuels. Hydro power yielded 32% of Portugal’s renewable energy output, wind 25% and solar almost 2%.
Although the country benefitted from the weather conditions during the week – the sun was bright and the wind blew – Portugal is on track to meet, and even exceed, the European Union target for member states to have at least 27% share of renewable energy consumption by 2030.
Portugal’s Energy Secretary, Jose Seguro Sanches, says that the government is promoting solar power programmes in order to reduce the country’s dependence on oil imports and acknowledges that by 2020 the country is on track to see renewable energy accounting for 31% of its energy use. He comments that “In the past few years, we have seen a preposterous boom in windfarms.”
Sounding a word of caution, he adds that “Nevertheless, the market nowadays is oriented towards photovoltaic solar energy, as a result of its high technological development and the decline of investment costs. This is a new path for the near future, [and] will guarantee the sustainability of the Portuguese electricity system.”
He believes that no one should say a renewable energy powered future is not possible. “Now, no one can come along and say in good conscience that this is impossible. This is possible” he says “because we did it. And if we did it, it’s also possible in other countries. It’s just a question of finding out how to do it.”
António Sá da Costa, Managing Director of the Portuguese renewable energy association Apren, also speaks highly of Portugal’s achievement. He argues that it was the result of long-term investment and cooperation by saying “It was the coming together of three factors, without which none of it would have been possible.”
He adds “The first was that we had the power plants in place to take advantage of the natural conditions during that period; second, it was only possible because of the wind, water and sun. The third was that we had the operational capability – in terms of both distribution and transportation – to manage this type of situation.”
With the infrastructure in place, an ability to harvest energy gained from renewable sources, combined and a strong appetite for sustainable change Portugal is set to continue to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels. Other countries – both in Europe and elsewhere – can learn from Portugal’s experience and embark on a similar course to ensure a more sustainable, renewable energy powered future.