From a colossal wind farm floating amid choppy ocean waves to hundreds of solar panels on the surface of a dam, Portugal is exploring innovative ways to boost renewable energy.
The massive use of such projects may still be too expensive, but pioneers like Portugal should benefit when costs come down.
Bathed in sun all year round and bathed by the Atlantic Ocean, Portugal is considered by many in the renewable energy sector as the ideal place to harness the energy of a cocktail of natural resources: sun, wind and water. .
Solar parks and wind turbines became part of the Portuguese landscape years ago, but although around 70% of the electricity produced comes from renewable sources, the country still depends on imported fossil fuels to meet its energy needs. .
Reducing fossil fuels is seen as key to meeting the Paris Agreement commitment to reduce the rise in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius this century.
As Europe grapples with soaring electricity prices due to a global spike in gas prices, Portugal – where nearly 20% of the population struggles to keep homes warm – is giving up not his dream of “going green” and floating solutions could play a role.
About 18 kilometers (11 miles) off the coast of the northern port city of Viana do Castelo, three enormous offshore wind turbines, mounted on equally gigantic yellow floating structures, are anchored with chains to the bottom of the Atlantic.
“It is one of the largest floating offshore wind farms in the world,” said Jose Pinheiro, project manager of WindFloat Atlantic, a consortium that includes French Engie, Portuguese EDP Renovaveis, Repsol and Principle Power.
Pinheiro sees him as a game changer, not only for Portugal but for the world.
The installation of turbines in the high seas, where the winds are strong, allows it to capture more energy than conventional structures on land.
Ultimately, this will make electricity cheaper and Portugal less dependent on fossil fuels, Pinheiro said at the port from where maintenance crews often go to the wind turbines.
“PATH TO SUSTAINABILITY”
But challenges persist. Pinheiro did not disclose the cost of the project, but offshore construction is still expensive.
A study funded by the US Department of Energy said the costs of wind power – offshore and onshore – could drop by as much as 49% by 2050.
âIt (the floating technology) will become mature enough to become more profitable and that will bring large-scale offshore floating wind farms to our horizon,â Pinheiro said.
Offshore wind farms also face opposition from fishing communities as they are not allowed to fish around the platforms or near the submarine cable that connects them to land.
“We are limited to the south by windmills and to the north by the border” with Spain, said seasoned fisherman Vasco Presa in a small fishing village near Viana do Castelo. “Of course it affects us.”
A two hour drive from Viana do Castelo, more floating solutions are being tested.
Portugal’s largest public utility, EDP, installed in 2017 a floating photovoltaic solar power plant – a total of 840 solar panels – on the waters of the Alto Rabagao dam. It is currently building a similar larger park on the Alqueva dam to the south.
Overlooking the panels from inside a boat, local EDP director Nuno Guedes said installing floating solar platforms on dams has huge benefits as they complement hydropower production, reusing existing facilities and avoiding the use of more land.
âWhen there is more sun, we have less water, so the two resources complement each other,â he said. “It will help us on the road to sustainability and a carbon-free society.”
(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Additional reporting by Violeta Moura and SÃ©rgio GonÃ§alves; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)