SPRING RENEWAL

Mainland Portugal is celebrating its first month totally powered by renewable energy sources, a major milestone on its path to sustainability.

Placards are seen before a protest against Spanish nuclear plant of Almaraz in front of Spanish embassy in downtown Lisbon, Portugal January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante


In an age when the political discourse between some of the world's biggest energy consumers is marked by climate change denial, the promotion of “clean coal" as a sustainable source of power, and the introduction of hydraulic fracturing in oil exploration, it is refreshing to see some countries shifting to environmentally friendly power matrices.

If early 2017 saw Costa Rica glow under the news that it had spent a whole month being powered solely by hydropower and wind energy, this time around it was the turn of a small European country to shine: Portugal.

The Portuguese Renewable Energy Association (APREN) has just announced that the state produced more power from renewable energy sources than its mainland's total energy consumption throughout the month of March. This represents a historical landmark for Portugal's energy sector, being the first time in 40 years that such a record has been achieved.

At a production rate of 4.812GWh, Portuguese dams, solar parks, and wind farms produced 0.165GWh (or 3.6%) more than the country's mainland consumed. Even if, at moments, fossil fuel-fired power plants had to be turned on to compensate for grid fluctuations, the excess produced in times of high yield far outdid these times.

March 11, in particular, recorded a spectacular output from renewable energy sources, producing 143% of the country's needs for that day.

The achievement of March is the result of hard-fought renewable energy incentive policies established during the early 2000s, which ultimately resulted in widespread investment in the sector. However, rather than speaking for the success of the policies, this landmark represents clear evidence of the sustainability of large-scale renewable energy-centered national electric grids.

It could serve as a model for other nations to follow; after all, the high renewable output of last month prevented the emission of 1.8 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. In emission allowances, that represents the saving of EUR21 million. Furthermore, the lower cost of renewable energy production also allowed for the reduction in the price per MWh from EUR43.94 in March 2017 to EUR39.75 in the same month of 2018, a 9.5% cut. Last year, March's energy production was secured only at 62% by renewable sources.

Beyond the financial gains that were further expanded by growing energy exports to neighboring countries, these results have profound implications on the country's power generation independence and security, particularly at a time when growing political tensions between Europe and Russia once again raise concerns over the continent's dependence on Russian natural gas for energy production.

APREN estimates that by 2040, with continued investments into renewable energy production capacity, Portugal could see all of its power generation needs supported exclusively by renewable energy sources.
While these results refer solely to the country's mainland, Portugal's island territories of Madeira and the Azores have also made considerable strides toward expanding their power generation capacity.

Just in November 2017, a new geothermal power plant opened in the Terceira island, in the Azores, a project developed in cooperation with Norwegian partners benefiting from funding from the EEA Grants program, and that fits into the local government's plan to expand the impact of renewable energy production in the island's energy matrix to 50% by the end of 2018.

As more and more countries start to witness the impact of climate change in their own territories and when climate actions is becoming more and more urgent, examples like that of Portugal make for hopeful reading.