Portugal’s renewable electricity generation has been reported to have exceeded demand for the first time in four decades. In fact, for the month of March, renewables supplied 103.6 percent of the country’s electricity consumption.
It wasn’t a clean run, so to speak: On some days, fossil fuels were required to meet the demand for Portugal’s electricity grid, but overall, clean energy won out.
This is all according to a report by the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association and sustainability group ZERO, emailed to IFLScience. They cited data from REN, the nation’s transmission system operator, although the raw data isn’t available at present.
At a minimum, 86 percent of the electricity demand was supplied by renewables (March 7), reaching a maximum of 143 percent (on March 11). Hydroelectric power (55 percent) and wind (42 percent) provided most of the monthly consumption of renewables.
Portugal has set itself ambitious targets to become a carbon-neutral country by 2050 – so with data like that, you’d bet that officials are pleased. Sadly, however, there are some necessary caveats for those hoping that a clean energy revolution is about to take hold of the world overnight.
This situation is Portugal-specific, which itself has a relatively tiny carbon footprint and a unique energy supply situation.
The coastal nation is home to just over 10.3 million people, which is roughly the size of a major, global metropolis. Although this new record is impressive, providing electricity to that many people in a fairly well-developed nation isn’t comparable to what providing up to 10 times as many people entails. This doesn't even take into account the complex political, infrastructural and economic variables either.
In addition, hydroelectricity, which is used heavily by the Portuguese state, is an incredibly useful source of clean energy – if you’ve got it, that is. Not every nation aiming for low-carbon electrical grids have access to the topographic features or engineering funds and abilities required for hydroelectricity.
Costa Rica, for example, does have it; plenty of green-focused nations in Europe, however, do not. It’s also worth pointing out that extremely heavy rainfall hit Portugal in March, which indubitably filled its hydroelectric reservoirs up to optimum levels.
The other thing worth mentioning is that electricity demands fluctuate, on a seasonal basis – typically, demand is higher in the winter months than the summer months – and a monthly/weekly/daily one. Indeed, REN does note that March experienced a “sharp temperature deviation from the usual values” which would have affected demand.
The real test of Portugal’s renewable electricity sector, then, will be when the cold revisits the Iberian Peninsula toward the end of the year. If renewables still outpace fossil fuels, then we know we’re far more likely to be onto a winner.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that renewable energy sources are proliferating in Portugal, and that’s certainly laudable. The same clean energy campaigners suggested in the report that by 2040, the nation’s electrical grid will rely on nothing but renewables and a smidgen of natural gas. This is perhaps possible, but the future of the sector remains somewhat unpredictable.
In the meantime, then, let’s give Portugal a cautiously optimistic round of applause.