It’s been two years now since Portugal decided to shut down its last coal plant after 30 years in service. The decision came eight years sooner than planned and showed that the country is aiming high as part of its transition to cleaner energy sources. Now, Portugal has achieved an impressive new record, running only on renewables for six straight days.
The country experienced 149 consecutive hours during which energy from renewable sources (largely wind and solar) exceeded the industrial and household consumption needs. Between 4 am on October 31st and 9 am on November 6th, for six days, 1,102 GW of power were generated, exceeding the national consumption for the same period by 262 GW.
During these 149 hours, two more milestones were achieved. The first, between 10 pm on October 31st and 9 am on November 6th, saw renewable energy production exceeding the national electric system’s needs without resorting to thermal power generation (fossil fuels) for 131 straight hours, tripling the previous record from 2021.
The second milestone was achieved between 10 am on November 1st and 9 am on November 5th. For 95 consecutive hours, renewable energy production exceeded consumption without the need for natural gas combined cycle plants, and Portugal was even able to export electricity to Spain — breaking the previous record of 52 hours set in 2018.
For Redes Energéticas Nacionais (REN), the company responsible for the transmission of very high voltage electricity and natural gas in Portugal, the new records show the country is on the right path. “Portugal has been maintaining a sustainable trajectory in progressively integrating indigenous renewable sources,” REN said in a press release.
Silently, making progress
Portugal might not be the first country that comes to mind when you think of renewables, but their progress so far places them among the countries leading the charge. The country aims to generate 85% of its electricity from clean energy by 2030, shutting down all of its natural-gas-fired power plants by 2040 and becoming carbon neutral by 2045.
Countries pledged in the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2 °C” above pre-industrial levels, making efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. Reaching those targets requires a transformation of the world’s energy sector, the most relevant one in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
Portugal committed to an energy transition earlier than the rest of the European Union. In 2016, it pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, several years before the EU committed to that step as a group. The country is one of the handful EU member states (along with Belgium and Sweden) that said no to coal as an energy source.
Since January, renewables have satisfied 56% of Portugal’s energy needs. Wind accounted for 24% of that, followed by hydro (18%), solar (8%) and biomass (6%). The rest comes from fossil fuels, largely imported, which means the country still has work to do. The government hopes to address this by expanding solar and offshore wind energy production.
“Portugal is entering the next stage of its energy transition. Wind power and interconnection made it possible for Portugal to phase out coal in 2021; solar is now pushing gas off the grid,” Matt Ewen, a data analyst at Ember, an independent energy think tank, said in May, after Portugal had broken another renewable energy record.