Portugal has become the first EU country in the modern era to reach a major clean energy milestone – powering its electricity needs from 100 percent renewable sources over several days.
The country kept its lights on using wind, hydro and solar power for 107 consecutive hours, from 6.45 a.m. on Saturday, May 7 to 17.45 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11, according to analysis of official government data.
Experts say good management and favourable weather conditions helped the country to capitalise on recent investments in wind and hydro power.
In the early part of this century, less than 1 percent of Portugal’s electricity production came from wind sources; by 2012 that figure was 20 percent.
Jean-François Fauconnier, renewables policy co-ordinator at Climate Action Network Europe, told Euronews: “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.”
And Portugal has the chance to improve its renewable energy sector even more, according to experts.
“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.”
Francisco Ferreira, president of Portuguese environmental NGO Zero, told Euronews the country had powered its electricity needs from 100 percent renewables last century – but when electricity coverage was very low.
He said building better connections with Spain and the rest of Europe would be crucial in growing the country’s renewable energy sector.
He said: “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.”
Ferreira, talking about Portugal’s recent clean energy milestone, added: “Yes, there’s pride. There’s 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.”
New data published just months after the COP21 climate deal showed carbon emissions increased in the EU last year, including in Portugal.
It prompted environmental NGOs to call for governments to do more to make the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
Figures show 16 percent of energy consumed in the EU is produced from renewable sources – Brussels has committed to reaching 20 percent by 2020.
Eurostat figures show 27 percent of Portugal’s total energy consumption (not just electricity) came from renewable sources in 2014.
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.”