Market Status: Portugal - Offshore potential could help meet ambitious goal

PORTUGAL: Portugal is on a roll. Last year the country moved from third to second place in the world in terms of the contribution wind energy makes to household power consumption, behind Denmark and now ahead of Spain, according to Portuguese transmission company Ren.

Of all electricity consumed, 15% came from wind. Data published in January showed that for every 24 hours of power used, on average three hours and 36 minutes came from wind, 31.6% more than the previous year.

According to preliminary estimates by the Directorate General for Energy and Geology, the agency responsible for Portugal's energy policy, Portugal should have ended 2009 with around 3.8GW of installed wind power capacity in the national electricity system. By October, figures showed it to be well on the way to this target, with total installed capacity standing at 3.45GW spread over 191 wind farms containing more than 1,800 turbines. Portugal started 2009 with 2.8GW. National wind energy production in the year through October totalled 7.5TWh, up 27% on the same period in 2008.

Back in November, Portugal's prime minister, Jose Socrates, announced that one of the key goals of his government's energy policy was to achieve an installed wind capacity of 8.5GW by 2020. Priority will also be given to domestic wind turbine production, the mapping and use of sea areas with potential for offshore wind exploitation, as well as production by mini wind plants. Portugal is aiming for around 60% of its electricity consumption in 2020 to be generated by renewable sources, the fifth-most ambitious target in the EU27.

Need for investment

But not everything is rosy for the wind energy sector. The financial crisis means project financing conditions are not as favourable as they have been in the past. Also, companies such as EDP Renovaveis, Iberdrola, Martifer and Endesa claim that Portugal's renewable energy tariffs make investments in wind plants unprofitable and have appealed for their review in 2012. Following a change of legislation in 2005, wind tariffs dropped 15% to about EUR0.07/kWh. The companies also claim the tariffs delay a return on investments because the procedure for connecting wind farms to the electricity grid is too lengthy and bureaucratic.

Portugal will have to make major investments in increasing the capacity of the power network and to introduce control systems capable of coping with growing energy demand.

According to the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association (Apren), the development of more wind farms, beyond those with connection points already assigned, may depend on the construction of new dams and reversible hydropower stations. "In times of low demand, the excess wind energy can be used to power the turbines of the dams," says Apren director Antonio Sa da Costa.

Major wind developers

The rapid growth of the sector has been led by two consortia - Eolicas de Portugal (Eneop) and Ventinveste - which have received the overwhelming majority of the 1.8GW injection of wind capacity awarded by the Portuguese government in the form of development concessions since 2005.

Eneop, made up of EDP, Endesa, Generg, and Enercon, is investing EUR1.7 billion in 48 wind farms with a total installed capacity of 1GW, to be completed by 2013. In December 2009 the consortium received conditional approval for its 58MW Malhanito project, a 29-turbine scheme in the southern municipality of Tavira. Construction work on the 88MW Baixo Alentejo wind farm should be completed by the end of 2010 for an estimated investment of EUR120 million.

Ventinveste, comprising Galp, Martifer, Efacec and Repower, is planning to invest EUR636 million in eight wind farms by 2013, totalling 400MW. Construction of the first of these, the 10MW Vale Grande project, began at the end of 2009 and should be completed later this year. However, in September 2009 the consortium suffered a setback when Portugal's environment ministry rejected 240MW out of 252MW proposed by Ventinveste due to environmental impact concerns, complicating further project development.

New opportunities

The Portuguese government is reportedly considering a fresh round of development concessions that could be worth up to 3GW and represent an investment potential of EUR4.2 billion. Asked to comment on the reports, economy minister Vieira da Silva stated only that the government is currently studying the future strategy for the wind power sector.

Meanwhile, attention is turning to Portugal's potential offshore capacity. According to estimates by the National Engineering and Geology Laboratory (LNEG), Portugal has an offshore wind potential of 2-2.5GW at up to 40 metres of depth. Ren, Portugal's transmission system operator, wants to have 550MW of near-shore wind power in place by 2019.

Portuguese energy utility EDP has teamed up with US technology company Principle Power, based in Seattle, Washington, to develop a EUR30 million deep-water offshore wind project, using WindFloat, a floating wind turbine foundation conceived by Marine Innovation & Technology and owned by Principle Power. This dampens wave and turbine motion, enabling wind turbines to be sited in previously inaccessible locations where water depth exceeds 50 metres and wind resources are superior. The project, which will be realised in three stages, should enter into commercial use in 2011.

In a related development, the LNEG is planning to launch a consortium for the development of new technology to exploit offshore wind. Separately, EDP, Efacec, Galp Energia, Martifer and MIT Portugal are jointly setting up an Institute for Offshore Energy in 2010 to assess the industrial potential of offshore wind energy in Portugal.

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