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PORTUGAL: Economic Crisis Looms, But Clean Energy Shines On

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Dec 16 2010 (IPS) - While the shadow of a speculative assault looms over Portugal, similar to the economic crises that hit Greece and Ireland, this Iberian nation manages to hold up the beacon of renewable energy.

Partial view of the Amaraleja Photovoltaic Solar Plant. Credit: Courtesy of Sustentator

Partial view of the Amaraleja Photovoltaic Solar Plant. Credit: Courtesy of Sustentator

Portugal’s renewable energy use is more than double the European Union average, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical research centre. Based on 2008 figures, 23.2 percent of the energy consumed in Portugal came from “green” sources, compared to the 10.3 percent average of the rest of the 27- member bloc.

At the top of the EU list for clean energy use are Sweden (44.4 percent), followed by Finland (30.5 percent), Latvia (29.9 percent) and Austria (28.5 percent). But Portugal leads the way in fastest growth of renewables, and its goal is to reach 31 percent by 2020.

Already two years ago, Portugal surpassed the EU-wide goal for 2020 to reach 20 percent renewable energy.

The government of socialist José Sócrates has set up economic incentives and launched a massive publicity campaign to foment the use of clean energy. Solar power is spreading quickly as photovoltaic panels are cropping up on homes across the country.

The pace of renewable energy growth has a leg-up from Portugal’s natural wealth in sunshine, wind and coastline.

But Portugal has also made it a priority to export technology that captures the energy from the sun, wind, ocean waves and biomass.

Earlier this month, the municipal enterprise Lógica, based in the southeastern Portuguese city of Moura, signed a two-year agreement with the renewable energy technology foundation FCTER, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, to build a photovoltaic energy laboratory.

Moura is located in the Alentejo region and has seen several solar energy projects over the last five years, when Mayor José María Prazeres Pós-de- Mina pushed to build the world’s largest solar farm there.

The solar plant began operating two years ago and, for his efforts, Pós-de- Mina received the 2008 People of the Year award from the non-governmental organisation OneWorld, one of the major international awards for defenders of the environment. In Europe and in Latin America, meanwhile, his reputation has grown as “the mayor of the future.”

The Amaraleja Photovoltaic Solar Plant was built as part of the energy park in Baldio da Ferraría, the European valley receiving most hours of sunlight — 3,000 per year.

Until 2009, when Spain’s Puertollano and Olmedilla de Alarcón solar farms surpassed it, Portugal’s Amaraleja was the largest of its kind in the world.

The 320 hectares of Amaraleja generate 64 megawatts with 2,520 solar- tracking units and 268,000 photovoltaic panels, for an estimated 93 million kilowatt-hours — enough to power 30,000 homes.

“When we build such big energy plants, the opportunity arises to negotiate something more,” engineer Helder Guia told IPS. He heads the Sunflower project, which facilitates environmental cooperation amongst European municipalities.

Guia explained that this was the case for Moura: “When the agreements for the construction of the Amaraleja plant were being finalised, they also agreed to build a photovoltaic panel factory.”

Mayor Pós-de-Mina’s reputation made him the guest of honour at the Latin American Conference on Renewable Energy, held in November 2008 in Florianópolis, capital of Santa Catarina, Brazil. That event marked the first step in the agreement signed this month.

The Portugal-Brazil partnership aims to establish technical, scientific, educational and cultural cooperation between FCTER and Lógica, as a way to promote research and innovation of mutual interest, especially in the area of solar energy — both thermal and photovoltaic.

The solar laboratory included in the pact is to have the capability for all sorts of tests to certify photovoltaic panels, whether they are made using crystalline silicon or fine-film solar cells.

Also in the agreement is labour professionalisation through an exchange of Brazilian and Portuguese students and technicians. They will participate in hands-on training at the Lógica plants and the solar energy labs of FCTER.

Lógica announced that it is working on plans to build two plants in Brazil “with the capacity to produce photovoltaic panels based on various technologies.”

By 2020, about 60 percent of the electricity consumed in Portugal will come from different renewable sources. The country already reached a very respectable 45 percent this year.

The proliferation of wind parks across the country has boosted that endeavour. In December 2008, the installed capacity of the wind turbines totalled 2,858 megawatts, and by the end of the next decade, should reach 8,500 megawatts, according to the government’s plans.

The star is perhaps the Alto Minho complex, in the northeastern province of Minho. Built in less than two years with an investment of 480 million dollars, it has been operating since December 2008.

The park has 120 wind turbines spread across 27 kilometres, with a 240 megawatt capacity — the equivalent of preventing 370,000 tonnes of climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions annually. Alto Minho is the leader in European wind parks in terms of power generated.

In an article published Sep. 19 by the British newspaper The Guardian, titled “Let’s Learn From Portugal’s Renewable Energy Policy,” Syma Tariq, an environmental issues reporter, suggests that Britain should follow in Portugal’s footsteps.

Tariq recognises that Portugal’s clean energy industry “benefits from a favourable climate,” but notes that Britain “has 10 times more coastline and benefits from plenty of wind throughout the year” — and yet is failing to take advantage of these traits.

“If Portugal can increase its reliance on green electricity from 17 percent to 45 percent in just five years, our own leaders have little excuse for our measly three percent,” she wrote.

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