'This is possible. We did it': the week Portugal ran on renewables

Campaigners say the 107 hours when the country was powered by wind, sun and water show they can replace fossil fuels

DATE: 26/12/2016

The 130 giant wind turbines that sprout from the peaks, slicing the air with a rhythmic sigh, have helped Portugal to a remarkable achievement. For four and a half days in May the country ran entirely on electricity from renewable sources: wind, hydro and solar power.

Despite fears of a blackout, the lights stayed on for a record 107 hours between 6.45am on Saturday 7 May and 5.45pm the following Wednesday.

Francisco Ferreira, president of the Portuguese environmental NGO Zero, got wind of what was going on when a friend called that weekend. “He said: ‘I’ve been looking at the graphs and for the past two days we’ve been 100% renewable on electricity production.’ After that, we looked at the data and arrived at 107 hours. We confirmed it with the national energy network, who said we’d had 4.5 days.

Yes, the timing was lucky, he adds. But that does not lessen the achievement of linking up hundreds of dispersed renewable power plants instead of taking the easier option of relying on production from one large thermal one.

Or, to put it a little more pithily: “When Cristiano Ronaldo scores a goal, people say it was lucky. No. It wasn’t lucky. It was a lot of training, a lot of preparation and a lot of things. In our case it wasn’t just luck.”

Portugal’s climate varies between wet and dry years. In wet years, hydropower is the main source of energy, followed by wind and coal. In dry years, however, coal is first, followed by wind and hydro.



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