The Guardian (UK)
Portugal runs for four days straight on renewable energy alone
Zero emission milestone reached as country is powered by just wind, solar and hydro-generated electricity for 107 hours
Portugal kept its lights on with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days last week in a clean energy milestone revealed by data analysis of national energy network figures.
Electricity consumption in the country was fully covered by solar, wind and hydro power in an extraordinary 107-hour run that lasted from 6.45am on Saturday 7 May until 5.45pm the following Wednesday, the analysis says.
News of the zero emissions landmark comes just days after Germany announced that clean energy had powered almost all its electricity needs on Sunday 15 May, with power prices turning negative at several times in the day – effectively paying consumers to use it.
Oliver Joy, a spokesman for the Wind Europe trade association said: “We are seeing trends like this spread across Europe - last year with Denmark and now in Portugal. The Iberian peninsula is a great resource for renewables and wind energy, not just for the region but for the whole of Europe.”
James Watson, the CEO of SolarPower Europe said: “This is a significant achievement for a European country, but what seems extraordinary today will be commonplace in Europe in just a few years. The energy transition process is gathering momentum and records such as this will continue to be set and broken across Europe.”
As recently as 2013, Portugal generated half its electricity from combustible fuels, with 27% coming from nuclear, 13% from hydro, 7.5% from wind and 3% from solar, according to Eurostat figures.
By last year the figure had flipped, with wind providing 22% of electricity and all renewable sources together providing 48%, according to the Portuguese renewable energy association.
While Portugal’s clean energy surge has been spurred by the EU’s renewable targets for 2020, support schemes for new wind capacity were reduced in 2012.
Despite this, Portugal added 550MW of wind capacity between 2013 and 2016, and industry groups now have their sights firmly set on the green energy’s export potential, within Europe and without.
“An increased build-out of interconnectors, a reformed electricity market and political will are all essential,” Joy said. “But with the right policies in place, wind could meet a quarter of Europe’s power needs in the next 15 years.”
In 2015, wind power alone met 42% of electricity demand in Denmark, 20% in Spain, 13% in Germany and 11% in the UK.
In a move hailed as a “historic turning point” by clean energy supporters, UK citizens last week enjoyed their first ever week of coal-free electricity generation.
Watson said: “The age of inflexible and polluting technologies is drawing to an end and power will increasingly be provided from clean, renewable sources.”
Wind power generates 140% of Denmark's electricity demand
Unusually high winds allowed Denmark to meet all of its electricity needs – with plenty to spare for Germany, Norway and Sweden too
So much power was produced by Denmark’s windfarms on Thursday that the country was able to meet its domestic electricity demand and export power to Norway, Germany and Sweden.
On an unusually windy day, Denmark found itself producing 116% of its national electricity needs from wind turbines yesterday evening. By 3am on Friday, when electricity demand dropped, that figure had risen to 140%.
Interconnectors allowed 80% of the power surplus to be shared equally between Germany and Norway, which can store it in hydropower systems for use later. Sweden took the remaining fifth of excess power.
“It shows that a world powered 100% by renewable energy is no fantasy,” said Oliver Joy, a spokesman for trade body the European Wind Energy Association. “Wind energy and renewables can be a solution to decarbonisation – and also security of supply at times of high demand.”
The figures emerged on the website of the Danish transmission systems operator,energinet.dk, which provides a minute-by-minute account of renewable power in the national grid. The site shows that Denmark’s windfarms were not even operating at their full 4.8GW capacity at the time of yesterday’s peaks.
A surge in windfarm installations means Denmark could be producing half of its electricity from renewable sources well before a target date of 2020, according to Kees van der Leun, the chief commercial officer of the Ecofys energy consultancy.
“They have a strong new builds programme with a net gain of 0.5GW in new onshore windfarms due before the end of the decade,” he said. “Some 1.5GW from new offshore windfarms will also be built, more than doubling the present capacity. We’re seeing a year-on-year 18% growth in wind electricity, so there really is a lot of momentum.”
The British wind industry may view the Danish achievement with envy, after David Cameron’s government announced a withdrawal of support for onshorewindfarms from next year, and planning obstacles for onshore wind builds.
Joy said: “If we want to see this happening on a European scale, it is essential that we upgrade the continent’s ageing grid infrastructure, ensure that countries open up borders, increase interconnection and trade electricity on a single market.”
Around three-quarters of Denmark’s wind capacity comes from onshore windfarms, which have strong government backing.
Solar power sets new British record by beating coal for a day
Coal’s decline continues as figures show homes and businesses got more power from the sun for an entire 24 hours last weekend
The sun provided British homes and businesses with more power than coal-fired power stations for 24 hours last weekend.
While solar power has previously beaten coal for electricity generation over a few hours in the UK, Saturday was the first time this happened for a full day.
Analysts said the symbolic milestone showed how dramatic coal’s decline had been due to carbon taxes, as solar had “exploded” across the UK in recent years.
National Grid data gathered by climate analysts Carbon Brief showed that 29 gigawatt hours (GWh) of power was generated on Saturday by solar, or 4% of national demand that day, versus 21GWh from coal-fired power stations.
“This first for solar reflects the major shifts going on in the electricity system,” said Carbon Brief in its analysis. “Last weekend’s solar breakthrough could not have happened without the increase in solar capacity. However, an ongoing collapse in coal generation was the more immediate cause.”
Solar power installations have surged in the UK over the past two years, driven by incentives and falling costs. The industry says there is now 12GW of electricity-generating capacity, out of the UK’s total capacity of 80-90GW.
Meanwhile, a series of major coal-power plants have closed, including the last coal plant in Scotland in March. Other coal units at Rugeley, Eggborough, Ferrybridge and Fiddlers Ferry, representing around 8GW of capacity, will close in coming months.
“The economics of coal are terrible at the moment,” said Peter Atherton, an influential energy analyst at Jefferies International bank.
“The economics of coal have deteriorated dramatically over the last 18 months. Coal-power plants are now heavily loss-making, and the reason is low wholesale prices... [and] what’s really hit coal is the increase in the carbon tax, the move from £8 to £18 under the carbon floor price floor last year, which really hurt them and flipped the economics over from barely profitable to loss-making.”
Going into last winter, the UK had around 18GW of coal capacity, Atherton said, but this year there will be less than 10GW.
However, he said solar had “exploded” in growth in the UK. “There’s no doubt solar has been on this incredibly rapid growth over the last few years.”
That growth is likely to flatten out in coming months due to government cuts to incentives. Subsidies for large solar farms end this month, and the number of householders putting solar on their roofs has already plummeted since the changes took effect in February.
The solar industry welcomed the news of the record last weekend. “Analysts expect solar will attract a third of all energy investments globally until 2040, so it is set to play a major role in tackling climate change and delivering clean power.
“It is also one of the cheapest major renewables and the most popular with the British public, so why the UK government has stepped back from supporting this winning technology is difficult to understand,” said a spokeswoman for the Solar Trade Association.
Carbon Brief said that coal’s woes meant it was providing a historically low level of power to the UK: “In 2016, coal has supplied less than 10% of UK electricity on 18 of 102 days, including every day in April so far. Coal has probably never supplied such a small share.”
The drop in coal use was the main cause of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions falling 4% in 2015 and last year solar, along with other renewable energy, provided more electricity than coal for the first time over a whole quarter.
The energy secretary, Amber Rudd, said in a major policy announcement last year the UK would phase out coal power by 2025, but both Atherton and Carbon Brief said it was clear that result was already in train well before Rudd made her pledge.
“The problem the government has at the moment is keeping coal on, not phasing it out,” said Atherton.