Portugal has been making headlines for recent extreme temperatures and subsequent wildfires in the south. In fact, eight areas in the country exceeded previous heat records last week, reaching 45 and 46 degrees Celsius. For reference, the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded in Portugal was 47.4 degrees during the deadly heat wave of August 2003. Large sections of the country remain on red alert on the Civil Protection Agency’s danger scale.
Though the sun’s power poses a serious threat to residents and travellers, it also offers a way for Portugal to diversify its renewable energy production. After generating 103 percent of its national electricity needs in March from renewable energy, the country proved that it is indeed becoming a green energy leader among the likes of France. However, most of Portugal’s renewable energy comes from hydro (55 percent) and wind (42 percent) power. Now, the country is setting its sight on solar power.
July 26 marked the inauguration of WElink Energy and China Triumph International Engineering Company’s new solar plant inauguration. Dubbed Ourika! and located in Ourique, Alentejo, it’s been operating since June following 11 months of construction and 35 million euros in investment. Ourika! is one of the largest solar plants in Europe. Its 142,000 solar panels will reportedly generate 80 gigawatts-hour of energy per year, which is enough to power 23,000 homes. Over its expected 30-year lifespan, Ourika! will produce a total of 46 megawatts of installed power.
The plant’s size isn’t its only claim to fame. As the first plant on the Iberian Peninsula – and one of the largest in Europe to connect to the main electricity grid without guaranteed tariffs or other public subsidies –the project does not come at any cost to consumers or taxpayers. Speaking to the press during its inauguration, Economy Minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral said that Ourika! highlights Portugal’s competitive potential in renewable energies. He also emphasised that the country has some of the best conditions for solar energy production, not only in Europe, but around the globe.
Minister Cabral stressed that there will be a wave of solar power plants popping up throughout the country following Ourika!’s lead. More than one thousand megawatts of solar capacity are already installed, and another one thousand are in the process of being licensed. Similar to the plant in Ourique, these plants will not require government subsidies. These projects will enable Portugal to “more than triple” solar energy production by 2022 and multiply its generation six-fold by 2025.
The cost of solar production has dropped significantly in recent years, as has the price of battery energy storage. In a sunny nation like Portugal, solar power is a very attractive source to balance the country’s already impressive supply of hydro and wind power. Portugal has expanded into solar to take advantage of such potential, pairing favourable conditions with technological progress and the government’s stable regulatory framework. Recent investments certainly support the stance that Portugal can play an active role in the renewable revolution.
LOOKING TO FUTURE POTENTIAL
According to a recent statement from the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association and the Sustainable Earth System Association, all of mainland Portugal will be able to run on renewable electricity “in a cost-effective way” by 2040. These advances come as the European Union strengthens its bloc-wide climate and energy targets and science confirms that Europe is a “renewable-friendly” environment despite the unpredictability of solar and wind power sources.
While renewable energy is certainly beneficial for the preservation of the earth, Portugal is showing how harnessing power from the sun and other natural elements can produce economic benefits as well. Electricity prices in Portugal are some of the highest in the Union due to a heavy reliance on fossil fuel and nuclear energy imports. By producing more than enough clean energy at home, the nation can not only minimise its carbon emissions, but also increase its energy security. The country could also export surplus energy and generate profit from their alternative natural resources, like sunshine and strong waves.
In the short-term, Cabral says renewable energy innovations will lower electricity prices and place less burden on consumers and residents. Looking forward, energy independence and reduced electricity costs could make Portuguese business more competitive and boost families’ purchasing power. This will be especially critical for the Southern European nation who continues to come out of the shadow of its recent economic hardship.