Portugal hopes to power entire country with wind, solar power at midnight Monday

On Monday, Portugal hopes to become the world’s first country to power its entire country entirely by non-fossil fuels, though the feat may be harder than expected.

The scheduled midnight power cut is scheduled to only work if that country’s 11.4 million households don’t switch on their domestic air conditioning. Right now, 47 percent of Portugal’s power comes from electricity generated by burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil. The rest of the country’s power comes from renewable sources like wind and solar.

The actual switch to be made on Monday is a technical one: The country has had a plug-in switchover planned to close the last remaining coal-fired power station this week. But air conditioning used to warm buildings in wintertime makes the switch to renewable power more difficult.

The country’s power grid is relatively ill-equipped to handle switching off diesel fuel in winter. To compensate, the European Union had to set up a temporary loan guarantee program. When the switch goes down on Monday, that will bring Portugal to a standstill for two to three hours, halting operation of its airports, trains, and buses.

Apart from the technical issues, however, reducing the amount of fossil fuel imported to Portugal has happened earlier than most other countries have tried. For years, Portugal has been working to meet its European Union emissions reduction commitments.

In 2011, it cut its carbon emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels and is on pace to meet its target of a further 27 percent reduction by 2020. It also enacted a carbon tax and voluntarily pledged to cut emission levels to zero by 2050. Its agriculture industry is the source of much of its coal use.

These emissions reductions have led to investments in renewable power. Portugal ranked first for solar power investments per capita in 2011, according to a study from the environmental group Ecofys. It’s now the largest producer of offshore wind power in Europe, with nearly 9 megawatts of installed capacity.

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