Portugal is boosting its renewable energy production with the authorisation of 31 new solar power plants, a total of over 1,000 MW of production capacity.
The €800 million investment will see operational capacity by 2021, when “we will be able to triple the solar capacity in Portugal, from the current 572 MW to close to 1600 MW,” said Jorge Seguro Sanches, Portugal’s Secretary of State for Energy.
Portugal has received worldwide publicity for periods when 100% or more of its electricity needs have been met by renewable energy sources, mostly from hydroelectric and wind power.
The cost of solar installations has dropped significantly in recent years and battery systems for energy storage also are becoming more affordable, the economics look good.
Portugal’s goal is to run 100% on renewable electricity, “It is expected that by 2040 the production of renewable electricity will be able to guarantee, in a cost-effective way, the total annual electricity consumption of mainland Portugal,” stated the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association and the Sustainable Earth System Association.
One of the benefits of renewable energy becoming mainstream is the end to fossil fuel subsidies, “Separately, on Tuesday, the government suspended subsidies for guaranteed power supplies paid to producers, worth about €20 million-a-year, most of which goes to fossil fuel plants left in stand-by mode.”
Excess electricity can be exported, “In addition, the Portuguese electricity system had an export net balance of 249 GWh, which translates into almost €24 million. The electricity export prices increased due to the emergency of the French electricity sector and to the adverse weather conditions in Central Europe,” according to the two associations.
Renewable energy has been seen by some as of environmental interest only, but Portugal is showing that it can also have economic benefits.
Against this promising backdrop, the government continues to promote its pro-oil agenda, facilitating a test drilling programme planned by Galp-ENI this coming September despite opposition from Algarve MPs, local business groups, environmental organisations, tens of thousands of voters and every Council in the region.
The excuse for the government’s overt support of the oil exploration programme, voiced by Jorge Seguro Sanches when signing off a controversial extension to the consortium’s drilling licence, was that the energy companies already had invested heavily in exploration, hinting that the State might be sued if it did not sign on the dotted line.
Sanches did not mention the other side of the equation, that Galp’s partner, ENI, through its Saipem subsidiary, has enjoyed €270 million in tax breaks in the past decade. Galp has had €70 million in tax credits from the taxpayer and much now hinges on a decision to be made by Loulé court in September as to whether an environmental impact assessment needs to be commissioned by the consortium.
This and other court actions, one involving the European Court of Justice, keep harrying at the government whose unpopular pro-oil policy is being resisted by just about everyone except those in the energy sector who long-term grooming of those now running the country needs to pay off, or it will be money wasted.
The first large solar power plant in Europe to produce energy without guaranteed tariffs or other subsidies now is operating in Ourique, after an investment of €35 million.
The Ourika Solar Photovoltaic Power Plant, covering 100 hectares near the village of Grandaços, was completed in June and began producing energy in July.
According to the company, the plant has a 30-year useful life and a total installed capacity of 46 megawatts-peak (MWp) generated by 142,000 solar panels. This will produce 80 GWh of energy per year, enough for 25,000 homes.
The plant was designed to prove that it is possible to produce energy through a large power plant similar to that of Amareleja, Moura, "but without the negative impact on the price of energy," the company said.
The Amareleja plant, over its 25 year life, may cost the public an extra €200 million in support pricing.
The energy produced by Ourika!, the first solar power plant to be licensed in Portugal to operate under a market regime, can be sold into the Iberian market or exported to other European Union countries.
The plant has the capacity to "make the difference in reducing the need to import fuels, increasing the national and European energy independence" of both imported natural gas from Russia and nuclear energy, stresses the company.