Portugal – Moving to 100% renewables

In April 2016, Portugal’s electricity generation came almost entirely from renewable energies (95,5%) and ran in early May on RES generation exclusively for 107 hours straight. A transition to 100% renewable energies is thus closer than ever in the country. Rita Antunes and Francisco Ferreira from ZERO – Association for the Sustainability of the Earth System explain.

The Alto Lindoso dam in Portugal looks like a usual lake.

The Alto Lindoso dam is the largest hydroelectric power station in Portugal. (Photo by PatríciaR / Patrícia, modified, CC BY-SA 3.0)

In 2005, renewable electricity in Portugal achieved only 16% of the total production of electricity – 8616 GWh. Back then, half of the renewables electricity production came form large dams (>30 MW), while wind power and biomass represented 20% each and PV only a very small share (3 GWh).

In 2010, Portugal crossed the threshold of 50% of renewable sources in electricity production. This achievement was the result of government policies implemented in the beginning of the century. This policy resulted in a wind power capacity increase of 3.5 times and almost 45 times of PV from 2005 to 2010. At the same time, large dams were retrofitted to increase the possibility of pumped storage to enable better management of electricity production.

Since 2010, electricity from renewable energy sources has remained steadily above 50% with an overall upward trend, even though actual figures varied throughout the years depending on the amount of rainfall and the consequent final contribution of hydropower. In 2014, Portugal had 63% of electricity demand assured by renewable sources.

2016 has been an impressive year with new records. With 6024 MW capacity installed in hydro (5360 MW in large dams), 5033 MW in wind, 566 MW in biomass, 474 MW in PV, and 29 MW in geothermal, a transition to 100% is already happening in Portugal. In April 2016, renewable sources provided 95.5% of the electricity demand (the second best month overall in this century). Recently, Portugal broke the record for the most number of hours running straight on 100 percent renewable electricity energy sources. The country ran on wind, hydro, and hydropower energy for 107-hours straight from 6:45 a.m. May 7 to 5:45 p.m. May 11. Throughout this four-day period, Portugal managed to provide 575 GWh of electricity without the contribution of any non-renewable sources, such as gas and coal. Portugal has set a new renewable energy milestone with the combination of renewable sources and the capacity to manage the grid with very limited international interconnections, particularly between Spain and France.

Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (also called “RES Directive”) sets the objective of meeting at least 20% of the EU’s final energy consumption with renewable energy sources by 2020. Portugal committed itself to a share of renewable sources of 31% of final energy consumption by then. Eurostat figures for 2014 show that 27% of Portugal’s total energy consumption (not just electricity) already came from renewable sources.

The main challenge continues to be the GHG emissions from the transport sector where the large-scale introduction of electric vehicles did not happen yet, despite early investments in a public charging infrastructure. This shift is crucial in order to meet the target in this sector.

On the supply side, it is necessary and urgent to increase PV production. It is necessary to combine the wind and hydro production (mostly during winter and spring) with PV (mostly during summer), to achieve a higher average of renewable production along the year. The new auto-consumption law privileges PV technology, even though there are some legal barriers to achieve “one roof, one PV panel”.

Portugal has been investing in energy efficiency in the past years, which, combined with the recent financial crisis was responsible for the stable consumption over the last 10 years. Continuing efforts on energy efficiency and energy savings are crucial to meet the renewable targets. The transport sector and in particular the implementation of soft modes of transportation is very important.

For 2015, Portugal achieved under its green growth commitment already a 30 to 40% GHG reduction from 2005, 40% renewables in final energy consumption, and a 30% reduction of the energy demand compared with the reference scenario.

The above described achievements show that Portugal is heading in the right direction and can accelerate in 2016 the transition for 100% renewables. These results show that policy measures taken 10-15 years ago can make the difference. That is why it is now necessary to set a new package of increasingly ambitious measures to get results in 2030. To accelerate this transition, it is necessary to shift the demand from primary energy on fossil fuels to electricity, to get a higher share of renewable electricity in final energy consumption. The transport sector is one of the most important ones in this transition.

Portugal, without yet clearly assuming a transition to a zero emissions society, is on track. The Portuguese Environment Minister, Mr. João Matos Fernandes, said during the signature ceremony of the Paris Agreement in the United Nations: “Portugal is prepared to go forward. Our goal is a future without carbon emissions”. Now, we need to move from talk to action. We need a plan to continue this transition along the next decades, but a cleaner future is becoming a reality in Portugal.


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  1. Patrick Thomas Sudlow says

    Unfortunately, despite the words, Portugal is allowing exploration for oil and gas offshore and onshore the Algarve. They are to commence exploration off Aljezur, within a month. This is despite local opposition to oil and gas exploration. Which, along with its contribution to climate change, could negatively impact the marine environment. The Algarve, being the poorest region in Portugal, is dependent on the fisheries, tourism, agriculture and salt industries

  2. Filipe Gonzalez says

    In a perfect World all this is just wonderful. What is not said in the article, is that Portugal is a poor Country that invested in aeolic and solar energy much too early (when the technology was too new and too expensive) heavily indebting itself for now and for an “eternal” future: the heavy interest-collecting contracts (8% to 22%) celebrated in 2008 by the Government run for 65 (!) and 75 (!) years;
    Despite all renewable power generated, fossil fuel imports (coal+oil) only suffered a minor decline – and that decline was only crisis induced with Portugal under a harsh EU-IMF rescue program of tax raises and social benefits/pensions cutting and international critique. Simplifying in other words: the “Rettungsschirm” lent Portugal 86 billion for running expenses – after Portugal spent 55 Billion in infrasstruture (renewable energies, roads, transport) and 31 billion in salvaging the financial sector (ongoing in 2016).
    The monthly energy bill to be paid by private consumers and companies has tripled between 2005 and 2016 – still the Government is incurring a yearly growing debt towards the energy producing and subsidized companies (!).
    For each new, renewable kwh installed an additional kwh of conventional, fossil kwh is needed to support the grid. Fossil power plants have the max consumption of fossil fuel and max output of CO2 when they are being powered up, not when they are running in stand-by or at regular capacity.
    The newly built dams have been highly controversial for 3 reasons: 1. high cost 2. destruction of the ambient, agriculture and wonderful valleys 3. the dams were not build to produce new, renewable energy, they were build to store the power generated from other aeolic and solar power sources (water has to be pumped up into the dam to let it off when needed). Taking it altogether it´s a highly inefficient and extremely costly method of storage and the tax-payer pays it twice (1. when the pumps are powered with aeolic energy 2. when the electricity from the dam is consumed at home)
    Sorry for harshly interrupting the beautiful dream of clean energy – but the whole picture has to be told. I would have said nothing if the EU had simply paid for the cost as lost subsidies instead of “rescuing” Portugal with loans at a 4% interest rate and if the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, with a leading role in the rescue, had simply adopted a fairer stance to the efforts of the portuguese People.
    Punished for going green and saving the Planet – too early. Beware!

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