Putting Portugal on the power grid

Photo: insightsonindia.com


The power lines connecting France and the Iberian Peninsula are set to be upgraded. But will more renewable electricity flow from Portugal to Central Europe, or more French nuclear power flow in the other direction?

At first glance deliveries of eco-friendly solar and wind energy from Portugal to Central Europe look great because both can be produced in abundance at the western end of Europe at reasonable prices. There is one problem though — a 3,000-meter-high obstacle called the Pyrenees Mountains, which cut off the Iberian Peninsula from France.

But things are about to change now because Portugal, Spain and France decided at the end of last month to simply bypass the mountains. An investment of around €2 billion ($2.28 billion) will soon create a better connection between Spain and Portugal and the European energy market.

By 2025, an underwater power line is supposed to be laid in the Bay of Biscay. By 2030, 15 percent of the networks in the Iberian Peninsula and France will be linked, well over today’s 5 percent.

Portuguese Economics Minister Manuel Caldeira Cabral called the decision a “historic event” that would end “Portugal’s years of energy isolation.”

The end of isolation

“The governments of the three countries have sent a political message that they want to seriously participate in the European energy network,” says Antonio Sa da Costa, chairman of the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association APREN. But while the Portuguese economy minister is already dreaming of supplying Central Europe with cheap Portuguese electricity from renewable sources, Sa da Costa shows a bit more restraint: “There is still a lot to do before that happens.”

On the one hand, Portugal has made good use of renewables with wind and hydroelectric power stations — it even manages to cover its own energy needs for extended periods without using conventional power plants. On the other hand, the production is relatively expensive and solar energy is barely in the mix, despite the sun shining so often.

Francisco Ferreira from the environmental protection organization Zero warns though that the flow of energy may go in the opposite direction. France may use the new connections to channel its artificially cheap nuclear power toward Portugal.

“In order to prevent that from happening, the Portuguese government must urgently provide price guarantees for the production of green electricity to encourage investment. But up to this point they have been rather stingy with subsidies and would like to get rid of them completely,” says Ferreira.

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