By: Natasha Smith
THE WORLD’S largest solar power plant opened last week in Serpa, Alentejo. Covering 60 hectares of land, which is the equivalent of 80 football pitches, the plant is due to supply energy to 8,000 homes.
For too long, Portugal has relied on importing energy resources and this initiative appears to be a step in the right direction towards cheaper and more environmentally friendly energy supplies.
The 11-megawatt plant has 52,000 photovoltaic modules (panels) and is raised two metres off the ground, so the area will continue to be used as productive farmland. The panels have been installed with silicon solar cell technology to convert sunlight directly into energy and will generate 20 gigawatt-hours of power each year. If the same amount of energy were to be produced by burning fossil fuels, 30,000 tons of greenhouse gases would be emitted. This accounts for around one per cent of Portugal’s annual emissions.
Since 1990, the country’s pollutant emissions have risen a staggering 37 per cent, which is one of the highest increases in the world. Carbon dioxide emissions in Portugal for 2005 amounted to 36,413,004 tonnes, according to the European Commission.
Construction on the plant began in June 2006 and it has been testing energy production since January. The power has then been fed into the Portuguese national electricity grid.
GE Energy Financial Services funded the project, investing around 56.2 million euros. The station was designed by Portuguese renewable energy company Catavento, which will provide the management services, as well as UK solar power provider Powerlight, which built the panels and will undertake the operation of the station.
Catavento’s CEO, Piero Dal Maso, said: “Serpa must not be a single case but a true starting point for solar power in Portugal.” He added that the Serpa solar power project, along with other renewable energy initiatives, helps lay the foundation for Portugal’s energy future.
Mario Armero, chief of GE Energy Financial Services Portugal, said: “The project is a major step in our growth in renewable energy to help overcome environmental challenges. The Serpa solar power plant is a clear example of GE’s commitment to cleaner, reliable renewable energy.”
Although the project has involved 200 workers, there will only be five permanent members of staff, but it is undoubtedly an impressive feat that the plant will reduce Portugal’s annual carbon emissions by one per cent.
The government is currently developing wind, solar and wave power projects as part of a plan to invest more than seven billion euros in renewable energy over the next five years. There is speculation that similar power stations will be constructed, including one in Moura, but no definitive information has been released.
Prime Minister José Sócrates said that he would like to see at least 45 per cent of Portugal’s power consumption to come from renewable energy by 2010.
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