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Overview of Hydropower in Portugal

by Daniyal
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Executive Summary

Hydropower in Portugal is the second main source of renewable energy in the nation, only after wind power. Undeniably, wind and hydropower shapes the renewable energy environment of Portugal. Statistically, 41% of renewable energy in Portugal comes from hydropower. Over the years, the nation has been expanding its capacity for this type of renewable energy. Among the motivating factor for expansion of hydropower in Portugal include energy sustainability and regional objectives with regards to renewable energy. Hydropower plants in Portugal today, some of which are running while others are still under construction, are all aimed at enabling the nation to meet its objectives of energy sustainability and European Union’s goals of renewable energy. 

Evidently, hydropower has impacted Portugal’s social and economic sectors. Expansion of hydropower capacity is secondarily motivated by the economic and social benefits presented by this renewable energy source. First, hydropower is a cheap source of energy, which is instrumental in improving the business favorability of a nation. In addition, projects related to expansion of hydropower capacity across Portugal presents beneficial effects to the nation’s social and environmental sectors. Potential benefits of hydropower are responsible for the government’s active role in expanding the nation’s hydropower capacity. In addition, the potential benefits trigger interest from among communities in Portugal. Technically, development and expansion of hydropower is beneficial to any nation.

Overview of Hydropower in Portugal

Keywords: Portugal, hydropower, renewable energy, sustainability, socio-economic, business

Hydropower in Portugal

In 2013, Portugal; a nation with approximately 10.2 million people, relies on electricity as the main source of power. Different methods are used in generating the needed electricity demands within the European nation. Theoretically, all methods of generating electricity are categorized as either renewable or non-renewable methods. Renewable sources of electricity include but not limited to, geothermal energy, solar energy, wind energy and hydropower (Smith, 2012). Contrarily, examples of non-renewable sources are fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas, and nuclear energy. Currently, 58.3% of electricity power in Portugal comes from renewable sources. The total percentage of all renewable sources in Portugal is derived from multiple sources whereby wind makes up 46.3%, hydropower makes up 41.6% while the rest is evenly distributed among geothermal, solar and biomass energy sources (Renewable Facts, 2011). Technically, Portugal generates 21756 MW of electricity power. 18.79% of the entire power output, which is 4,088 MW, comes from hydroelectricity (Lindsey, 2009). Since the last 10 years, the average annual growth rate of hydroelectric power generation in Portugal stands at 4%.

Hydropower in Portugal stemmed from the need to ensure energy sustainability through the use of renewable sources. In the 1980s, Portugal relied on electricity generated from fossil fuels. Unfortunately, Portugal has no reserve for fossil fuel resources, and relied on imports of the fuels for power generation. At the time, it emerged that reliability on imported energy sources would not guarantee economic and environmental sustainability of the nation’s energy sector (Grubb, 1996). Prices of fossil fuel were subject to fluctuations, which caused corresponding fluctuations in Portugal’s power economics. In addition, the European Union wanted all member nations to replace non-renewable energy sources with renewable ones. As a member of the European Union, Portugal aims at producing 60% of its total power from renewable sources by 2030. Technically, hydropower and wind power feature as the two most reliable sources of renewable energy. In this regard, development of hydroelectricity in Portugal is in tandem with economic objectives of the Portuguese government, and the EU’s advisory.   

Since identification of the national energy objectives, and with influence from the larger European Union, Portugal have been expanding and sustaining its hydropower production capacity. In 2005, the total hydropower output in Portugal was 2,920 MW. By 2013, the power output from hydro sources was 4,088 MW. Increase in power output resulted from increased installment of hydroelectricity generation plants across the nation (Jorge & Moselle, 2010). By 2020, Portugal plans to have installed hydropower infrastructural network to generate 8,500 MW of electricity. The expansive infrastructural objective began in 2007 when Portugal constructed and eventually commissioned 300 MW of hydropower from the Pelamis power plant. In 2011, an additional 693 MW of hydropower capacity was added to the national grid from the plant located along the coast of Penic. Currently, the national government, in association with international financers, is constructing two hydropower plants that will yield a total of 4,500 MW of power (Lindsey, 2009). The two mega plants will be commissioned in 2018. All these expansion programs are meant to expand the nation’s hydropower output in order to facilitate achievement of the 8,500 MW goal of hydropower capacity by 2020.

Development of the Hydropower Idea in Portugal

Admittedly, development and expansion of hydropower in Portugal has impacted the economic and social aspects of Portuguese citizens. First, hydropower has played an instrumental role in shaping the business environment of Portugal. In Portugal, the cost of electric power has dropped relatively since the late 1990s. For instance, in 1998, the cost of 1kWH in Portugal was £0.188. By 2010, the price of the same unit of electricity had dropped to £0.024 (Ali, 2011). The primary users of electricity power in Portugal are industrial and household consumers. Cumulatively, industries in Portugal consumes approximately 57% of power while household users consumer a total of 39%. In this context, reduction in the cost of electricity had direct impact in the cost of doing business. In the late 1990s, the high cost of electricity unit was attributed to the high price of imported fossil fuels (Luis, 2006). However, hydroelectricity power, which comes from river and lake water, is responsible for the cheap power in Portugal today. In this regard, hydropower has improved the business environment in Portugal through reduction in cost of productions.

Besides improvement of business aspects, hydropower has also impacted the social aspects of Portugal. Previously, power plants using nuclear or fossil fuels in generating electricity caused social problems like displacement of people (Luis, 2006). Environmentally, it is required that nuclear plants should be established in remote places distant from human and animal population. In the absence of reserved ranches, construction of nuclear power plants would necessitate relocating a population in order to meet the safety requirements. In addition, fossil fuel plants required adjustment of human population because of exhaust fumes from the plants. Even after establishing nuclear and fossil fuel plants in remote locations, there were always cases of health impacts resulting from environmental pollutants from these plants (Ferreira, 2002). In addition, nuclear power plants posed imminent danger to the human population in case of accidents. Technically, hydropower does not emit pollutants into the environment. In addition, hydropower plants pose no danger to adjacent populations. Hydroelectricity is generated from the mechanical energy of moving water. In this context, expanded development of hydropower in Portugal has led to minimal problems of population disturbance and health impacts of pollution.

Presently, the Portuguese population and business stakeholders seem to embrace the role of hydropower in powering the nation. The positive perception of the nation’s population manifest in form of private and community initiatives meant to enhance the hydropower capacity in Portugal. In an effort to improve their economic lives and ensure environmental sustainability, private persons and community initiatives are engaged in small-scale hydropower projects (Sandra, 2014). In Portugal, a small-scale hydropower project generates an average of 7MW of electricity, which is supplied to the local grid. Members of the community initiatives are monetarily compensated for supplying the electricity. Besides gaining economic benefits, the small-scale hydropower projects, which are common in Portugal, fosters environmental preservation. Prior to expansion of hydropower projects across the nation, Portuguese communities in both rural and urban settings derived little economic benefits from rivers (Sandra, 2014). However, the small-scale projects have enhanced the importance of river systems in Portugal. Communities living near rivers are now willing to preserve the natural sources of running water because of economic benefits associated with the sources.

At this juncture, I have gained substantial insights on the role of hydropower as an energy source in Portugal. Apparently, expansion of hydropower capacity is a desirable pursuit in the global platform. European Union entices its member states to boost the power capacity from renewable sources in their nations. The European Union and the larger global community explicitly mention the advantages of renewable energy sources, which include environmental sustainability and economic benefits (Creamer & Rachel, 2005). In this context, Portugal is contributing to achievement of renewable energy capacity across Europe and the world in general. Currently, China leads in hydropower production capacity at 26% of world’s total capacity. Currently, Portugal contributes approximately 0.3% of world’s capacity in hydroelectricity. Increasing hydropower capacity will improve Portugal’s global reputation in terms of environmental sustainability in the economic sector. Aside from importance of hydropower in the global arena, I also gained insights relating to direct impacts of hydropower in Portugal’s population (Creamer & Rachel, 2005). Currently, the nation’s population is embracing the power production method because of associated benefits. Active involvement of the population indicates that hydropower is instrumental in enhancing the quality of life locally.

Conclusion and Recommendation

Theoretically, it emerges that hydropower capacity within a given nation has a positive correlation with the aspect of economic development. China and the United States which contributes 35% of global hydropower capacity are the leading economic powers today (Adrian, 2010). Hydropower supplies cheap energy to industries. Currently, industrial production feature as the economic machines in any nation. Nations which still depend on other economic machines like agricultural lag behind in matters of economic competitions. First, hydropower is the cheapest and most sustainable source of electric energy. Business organizations that are interested in cheap and sustainable means of productions are attracted by presence of a large hydropower capacity within a nation.

Currently, China is a paradise for manufacturers around the world. European and American companies are increasingly setting up production plants in China because the high hydropower capacity translates into cheap energy for running production plants. With respect to Portugal, it is acknowledgeable that increasing the nation’s hydropower capacity will lead to improvement in the business aspect of production. As a business person leading an organization that relies on hydropower energy, I would recommend partnership with small-scale hydropower projects in ensuring sustainability of the energy source. In this case, sustainability of hydropower would lead to a corresponding sustainability in a company’s business. In conclusion, it is evident that hydropower projects in Portugal will facilitate social, environmental and economic developments in the nation.    

Reference List
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  • SANDRA, S. (2014) World in Transition: Towards sustainable energy systems. London: Rutledge Publishers.   
  • SMITH, J. (2012) Portugal Country: Strategic information and developments. Lisbon: Int’l Business Publications.

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