Rational Cause for Optimism

Rational Cause for Optimism: Portugal’s Grid Powered by 100% Renewable Energy

From our bird's-eye view of the renewable energy industry, we often see positive developments for humanity before they become common knowledge. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the clean energy innovations and sustainability actions that are legitimate cause for optimism despite the very real threats to people and the environment posed by climate damage.

For the first time in history, a nation of 10 million people has been able to rely exclusively on wind, solar, and hydropower for 100% of its electricity needs for almost a week.

From October 31 to November 6, 2023, Portugal’s renewable energy systems cranked out enough clean electricity to deliver power to all grid customers without gas-fired electricity (although the country’s gas plants were on standby just in case). 

Achievable for New England

Figueiredo_-_Portugal_(51112392063).jpgPhoto Credit: Vitor Oliveira from Torres Vedras, PortugalThis is noteworthy for northern New England, which has a similar population of 10 million people spread across Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire and, like Portugal, not a drop of fossil fuels under its soil.

Portugal’s journey away from fossil fuels began in earnest in 2016 when its government set a goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. As part of that ambitious goal, the last coal-fired power plant in Portugal was shut down in 2022 (northern New England is also on the cusp of eliminating coal power plants with just one remaining in Bow, NH).

Legacy hydroelectric power plants have played a large role in Portugal’s renewable energy transition, but now the country is focused on deploying solar combined with wind power (and storage) because the wind is often blowing when the sun isn’t shining, and vice versa. The country has a goal of building 10 gigawatts of offshore floating wind turbines, similar to the challenging offshore wind efforts underway in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.

A strong indication of significant progress occurred on a blustery, sunny day in April 2023 when Portugal derived 51% of its total national energy needs from wind and solar. The country is now incorporating battery storage into more of its renewable energy projects to help alleviate the intermittency of wind and solar. 

Similar Solar Potential

solar panels_resize.jpgPhoto Credit: Cait Bourgault PhotographyAlthough Portugal’s latitude of 39 degrees is a little further south than northern New England’s 43 degrees, the solar resource of the two regions is comparable: 3.41 - 5.08 kilowatt-hours per meters squared per day (kWh/m2/day) in Portugal compared to 2.97 - 6.24 kWh/m2/day in northern New England.

On average, Portugal receives about 2,800 hours of sunlight per year compared to northern New England's 2,500 hours. While average annual temperatures in Portugal are significantly warmer than our northeast region, it’s worth noting that photovoltaic panels are more efficient at lower temperatures.

We remain clear-eyed about the enormous political, technological, financial, and resource challenges of transitioning away from fossil fuels, but it’s undeniable that significant progress is being made. Countries like Portugal, Germany, Costa Rica, and many others around the globe, and U.S. states like CA, MA, ME, MI, MN, NY, VA, RI, WA, and WI, are all committed to 100% renewable energy combined with storage by 2050 or sooner. We think it’s rational cause for optimism that relatively modern economies and societies, both domestically and abroad, are proving that we can live sustainably without burning finite, polluting fossil fuels.