I just read an insightful article sent to me describing how Portugal has managed to transition to 45% of it’s grid being powered by clean energy, when just five years ago it only got 17%.
Some of the key ingredients I saw were
1. Politicians with the guts to stick to their goals despite the backlash from utilities and some activist groups.
“Indeed, complaints about rising electricity rates are a mainstay of pensioners’ gossip here. Mr. Sócrates, who after a landslide victory in 2005 pushed through the major elements of the energy makeover over the objections of the country’s fossil fuel industry, survived last year’s election only as the leader of a weak coalition.
“You cannot imagine the pressure we suffered that first year,” said Manuel Pinho, Portugal’s minister of economy and innovation from 2005 until last year, who largely masterminded the transition, adding, “Politicians must take tough decisions.”
2. A feed-in tariff to paint a brighter financial picture for residents who want to invest in localized clean energy.
“Portugal’s distribution system is also now a two-way street. Instead of just delivering electricity, it draws electricity from even the smallest generators, like rooftop solar panels. The government aggressively encourages such contributions by setting a premium price for those who buy rooftop-generated solar electricity. “To make this kind of system work, you have to make a lot of different kinds of deals at the same time,” said Carlos Zorrinho, the secretary of state for energy and innovation.”
3. Creative clean energy and policy solutions to maximize production for minimum cost.
“To force Portugal’s energy transition, Mr. Sócrates’s government restructured and privatized former state energy utilities to create a grid better suited to renewable power sources. To lure private companies into Portugal’s new market, the government gave them contracts locking in a stable price for 15 years — a subsidy that varied by technology and was initially high but decreased with each new contract round.”
“While the government estimates that the total investment in revamping Portugal’s energy structure will be about 16.3 billion euros, or $22 billion, that cost is borne by the private companies that operate the grid and the renewable plants and is reflected in consumers’ electricity rates. The companies’ payback comes from the 15 years of guaranteed wholesale electricity rates promised by the government. Once the new infrastructure is completed, Mr. Pinho said, the system will cost about 1.7 billion euros ($2.3 billion) a year less to run than it formerly did, primarily by avoiding natural gas imports.”
“Portugal’s national energy transmission company, Redes Energéticas Nacionais or R.E.N., uses sophisticated modeling to predict weather, especially wind patterns, and computer programs to calculate energy from the various renewable-energy plants. Since the country’s energy transition, the network has doubled the number of dispatchers who route energy to where it is needed.
“You need a lot of new skills. It’s a real-time operation, and there are far more decisions to be made — every hour, every second,” said Victor Baptista, director general of R.E.N. “The objective is to keep the system alive and avoid blackouts.”
Like some American states, Portugal has for decades generated electricity from hydropower plants on its raging rivers. But new programs combine wind and water: Wind-driven turbines pump water uphill at night, the most blustery period; then the water flows downhill by day, generating electricity, when consumer demand is highest.”
Why can’t we do that here?