Portugal to present energy-saving plan by end of August

An energy-saving plan designed to prepare Portugal for Europe’s looming energy crisis this winter is due to be presented by the government by the end of August. Reducing opening hours for businesses and cutting down on night-time lighting are among the measures being discussed.  

Europe is facing an energy crisis which some experts have described as its worst in decades.

European energy prices are soaring across the continent due to Russian gas supply cuts following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

News agency Reuters painted a bleak picture of the situation on Wednesday, reporting that “another dramatic spike in natural gas prices appears to have ended any hopes that Europe’s inflation battle is set to ease”.

With winter just months away, European countries are scrambling for solutions to face the crisis.

The Portuguese government is preparing an energy-saving plan which is due to be unveiled to the population by the end of this month.

ADENE (Portugal’s energy agency) – which is understood to be working on the plan alone, without any additional task force – has already contacted business associations to ask for proposals for energy-saving measures.

While no concrete measures have been announced, reports in the national press suggest that reducing opening hours for businesses and cutting down on night-time lighting will be among those implemented.

CCP (Portugal’s confederation of commerce and services) has already expressed its willingness to cooperate.

“The CCP is available to discuss more structural measures, such as the reduction of extended opening hours in shops and offices,” the confederation said in a statement, stressing that “Portugal has average weekly opening hours” which are “much higher than the rest of Europe”.

Setting limits for temperatures at stores and offices and reducing night-time lighting (such as shop windows and public lighting) – are among the measures CCP supports, although it warns that security and policing will have to be beefed up to make up for the reduced lighting.

“If the measures to be implemented in the near future are not sufficient to fulfil the commitment made by Portugal, this confederation is available to discuss other measures, such as the reduction of opening hours (similar to what has already been decided in other countries),” CCP added.

But not everyone agrees that reducing opening hours is the way to go.

“Closing earlier or opening later seems like it could be detrimental in the context we are in now and after a pandemic which deprived us of a large part of our usual business. That doesn’t seem like the right strategy,” Joel Azevedo, president of Porto’s association of businessowners (ACP), told TSF radio.

He, instead, suggested reducing air conditioning and shifting all of businesses’ lighting to LED lighting.

Rodrigo Moita de Deus, executive director of Portugal’s shopping centres association (ACC), has also spoken up against the proposal and said there are other measures which could represent 7% to 9% energy savings.

“We can work on climatisation, reducing or increasing room temperatures at shopping centres. We are sure that would bring us very interesting gains from an energetic efficiency point of view, although we would need to explain to the public that things will be different from September onwards,” Moita de Deus told TSF.

“The environment will be different; comfortable, of course, because there are matters relating to food safety which we have to take into account, but very different from what we are used to,” he said.

Another suggested measure is controlling the energy usage of escalators or elevators, particularly when they are not being used.

“We have another proposal for later on, which is to substitute every light for a LED light and try to do so until the end of the year, despite the investment this represents,” the association president said, adding that the government may have to help with financial support and the streamlining of licensing procedures.

Common sense must prevail

Meanwhile, the Business Council of Coimbra Region (CERC) – which represents around 15,000 companies in the region – has called for “common sense” and pleaded with the government not to implement measures “blindly”.

Energy expert António Sá da Costa has also provided his own take, stressing that the government’s plan should have a “criterion of reasonableness in the application of measures” – in other words, measures should differentiate between the sectors of commerce, industry, and services.

“There are two types of measures: the short-term measures, which should come to stay, and the emergency measures, which are the last-minute patches while the short-term measures are not implemented,” Sá da Costa told news agency Lusa, adding that even the emergency measures “should not be applied blindly”.

The former president of the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association (APREN) also stressed that some measures won’t impact everyone in the same way.

Sá da Costa gave the example of a shopkeeper who has replaced already traditional lighting with LED lamps.

“The shopkeeper has already reduced his consumption by 10% of the initial consumption” by replacing traditional lights with LED lamps, he explained.

“If they now cut, for example, the amount of time he can have the lights on by 20%, this measure reduces his initial consumption by 2% – but if the same measure is applied to a shopkeeper who has done nothing, the measure reduces his consumption by 20%,” the expert added.

The same applies to public lighting, Sá da Costa pointed out, given that some municipalities have already implemented more efficient light bulbs, while others have not.

In this case, “the impact that the reduction in operating time may have on the safety of people and property” must also be considered.

What can you do at home to save energy?

Simple changes to normal habits can make a big difference when trying to cut down on energy consumption.

Air conditioning is one of the main ‘culprits’ of an increase in energy consumption over the years in Portuguese households and offices.

“We are creating in Portugal a habit of modern times, which is to use the 18ºC-19ºC mark as the standard temperature, which has been proven to be unnecessary,” Pedro Martins Barata, an environmental policies specialist, told CNN Portugal, adding that the ideal mark should be between 21ºC-22ºC.

“With this alone, we already create considerable savings,” he said.

Meanwhile, Susana Fonseca from environmental association Zero said that caulking windows and doors should be the first line of defence against winter drafts.

“It is a habit that many families have lost, having instead resorted to (electronic) appliances,” said Fonseca.

By Michael Bruxo