Sunday, April 2, 2023

The answer is blowin' in the wind

What is the best way forward to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions in the battle to limit global warming? Now you know the answer - well, one of the most important answers.

Portugal is using wind turbines to eliminate fossil fuels and create electricity to a greater extent than any other efficient method, such as solar or hydro.

Wind technology has a very long history. Windmills were busy grinding wheat in the Mediterranean region many centuries ago. By the mid-1800s to mid-1900s millions of small windmills were used to pump water in the United States. The first large wind machine to generate electricity was installed in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1888. Further development of wind generators in the USA was inspired by the design of airplane propellers and monoplane wings. Subsequent efforts in Denmark, France, Germany and the UK showed that large-scale wind turbines could work well to produce energy. The first really large-scale installations came about in California where over 16,000 machines, ranging from 20 to 350 kW (a total of 1.7 GW), were opened between 1981 and 1990. This was a result of incentives given by the USA government.

In northern Europe, wind farm installations increased steadily through the 80s and the 90s with the higher cost of electricity and the excellent available wind resources leading to the creation of a small but stable market. The last twenty years have brought wind energy to the forefront in Europe and all over the world.

Portugal was a relatively late starter, but in 2001 the government launched a programme aimed at promoting a consistent, integrated approach to energy supply and demand. It established its first onshore wind farm in 2016 and since then has rushed ahead with gale-force enthusiasm. By 2020 wind power was a major source of electricity generated in this country. By the end of 2021, it had 265 wind farms and a total of 2,836 turbines meeting 26% of the country’s energy needs.

A pioneering offshore wind farm – WindFloat Atlantic, the world’s first semi-submersable floating wind farm (pictured here) - started adding electricity to the grid in 2020. New high- capacity offshore projects will be commencing this year. 

The government aims to cover 80% of the country’s electricity consumption with renewables by 2030 and to be climate neutral by 2050.

Five years ago the government committed to close all of the country's coal producing facilities by the end of this decade, making it almost completely reliant on renewable energy. Four years ago coal still provided 40% of Portugal's electricity. The two last coal power plants in the country closed in 2021, nearly ten years earlier than initially forecast. The first plant had been responsible for 12% of all greenhouse emissions in Portugal. Its closure meant the biggest decrease in polluting emissions in the country's history. The second plant was the only coal-fired facility functioning until 19 November 2021 when it too was shut down.

It was estimated that around 20,000 jobs would be created until 2030 in the solar-photovoltaic industry alone, with EDP having announced an investment of €24 billion in the renewable industry until 2026, most of it directed at wind, solar and green hydrogen production.

Back in 2017, a drought that severely affected the production of hydro electricity reduced the total from all renewables from 55.5% the previous year to 41.8%. Wind power that year accounted for 21.6% of the total, hydro 5.1%, solar just over 1% and geothermal 0.4%. Wave power made up 24% of the energy produced in the Azores.

While all other renewables are very important, wind remains the major source of electricity in Portugal. Its evolution does indeed provide an answer to this country’s commitment to avoiding a global warming catastrophe.



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