Op-Ed: Green energy — Portugal’s 70% from renewables shows how it’s done

Posted Apr 20, 2013 by Robert Myles
Portugal’s national electricity grid concessionaire, Redes Energéticas Nacionais (REN) recently announced that renewable energy made up 70% of total consumption for the first quarter of 2013.
Portugal is researching wave-power as part of its renewable energy mix - a Pelamis wave energy conve...
Portugal is researching wave-power as part of its renewable energy mix - a Pelamis wave energy converter during the final tests at the port of Peniche
Dipl. Ing. Guido Grassow
This remarkable achievement by a country still in the grip of recession should inspire green energy campaigners across Europe.
Portugal remains in recession with the Portuguese facing yet another austerity budget, as reported in Digital Journal on April 7, but the latest figures from REN hold out some hope for the future of the country with an energy sector not just weaning itself off reliance on hydrocarbons but becoming a net exporter of renewable energy.
According to REN’s latest report (in Portuguese) between January and March:
• Hydro-electric power accounted for 37% of total electricity generation. Remarkably, there was a 312% increase compared with last year.
• Wind generated electricity reached a new record high accounting for 27% of total electricity generation. The year on year increase in this sector was 60%.
• Solar energy supplied a minuscule 0.7% in 2012 and no figures are yet available for 2013. Clearly, given Portugal’s favourable position in south west Europe with a generally sunny disposition, there may be scope for solar power contributing more to the renewable energy mix in the future.
Alto Lindoso hydro-power dam in Portugal  part of the country s renewable energy mix.
Alto Lindoso hydro-power dam in Portugal, part of the country's renewable energy mix.
Wikimedia Commons
By switching to renewable energy in a big way, Portugal is saving a fortune on fossil fuels. Having no significant hydrocarbon resources of its own it is reliant on the import of fossil fuels such as gas and coal to fire up conventional power stations. In the first quarter of 2013, Portugal’s energy mix for electricity generation involved 29% less coal year on year and 44% less gas compared with 2012.
Over the 3 month comparison period, REN reports Portugal used 2.3% less energy which REN puts down to a milder winter and the 2013 first quarter containing less working days. It may be symptomatic of a country in deep recession that REN also says overall energy consumption in Portugal has now fallen every year since 2010 with energy consumed in Portugal during first quarter 2013 now standing at levels not seen since 2006.
On the upside, between January and March 2013, the Portuguese National Grid actually exported what would have been 6% of national electricity consumption to other countries.
As reported on The Energy Collective, long before the financial tsunami that engulfed most of Europe in 2008, Portugal made a far reaching decision in 2000 to modernise its dated electricity grid. Against the trend of privatisation as witnessed in the UK, in Portugal, the government bought out the transmission lines and created a publicly owned and traded company to operate them. The result was a modern grid that positively encouraged connections from privately owned renewable energy producers with the Portuguese government organising auctions for the construction of new wind farms and hydro-electricity schemes.
The success of Portugal’s policy in focusing on renewables must cast doubt on those who argue there is no option to nuclear power forming part of any future energy mix. Portugal’s 70% total energy consumption from renewables represents a remarkable achievement and should not be underestimated. In 2010, the New York Times reported that Portugal’s target was to achieve 60% electricity generation from renewables, including large-scale hydro-power, by 2020. That Portugal, still mired in recession, has exceeded that goal by a margin seven years ahead of schedule while at the same time improving its trading imbalance vis-à-vis fossil fuels and reducing its carbon emissions should be an example to nations, large and small, across Europe.