ACCORDING TO a report in UK’s The Guardian, a German firm is set to exploit the Alentejo’s sun-baked environment by building the world’s biggest solar energy power station near Beja. If the government approves the project – and the Environment Ministry has already sanctioned it – the 250-hectare plant could supply 130,000 households and create innumerable jobs in the process. The Alentejo, boasting 3,000 hours of sunshine per annum, that represents 1,890 kilowatt hours of sunshine per square metre per annum, is perceived as one of the most promising areas in Europe for solar power.
A spokesman for the site’s owners said the plant, which would be located at the Minas de S. Domingos, had a potential output of 116 megawatts and be several times bigger than the world’s current largest solar energy plant in Germany. The government would decide at what price to set the energy that would be supplied straight to the Portuguese electricity grid.
A consortium of German companies aims to erect 116 hexagonal clusters of solar panels. Another German
manufacturer of solar panels has also said it plans to build a factory at the site, creating extra jobs in the process. The total cost of the investment would be of about 426 million euros. Multinational German company Siemens has declared that it would be involved in building the power plant.
The site, formerly a mine owned by a British company dealing in opencast and underground excavation, was closed in the 1960s. Helmfield Horster, managing director of the company that owns the site, said the banks and inclines of the reservoirs were already close to having the appropriate angle to allow solar panels to make best use of the sun’s rays. “We will be able to mount most of them on wooden frames rather than the metal ones that are often used,” he said.
Horster noted that the solar park and factory would have a big impact on the region, creating three jobs in ancillary areas for every employee working directly on the solar power plant or in the factory. “It will have a structural effect on the whole area,” he is reported as saying. “Local authorities are very enthusiastic.”
The project would be financed by special, renewable energy investment funds set up by international banks.
Building the full new power plant will take four to five years, so leading one to conclude that the plant would be completed by 2009.
With the old mine site occupying much more than the 250 hectares (620 acres) set aside for the project, the consortium said that it could expand operations if that became necessary.
Last year, a solar power plant near Leipzig pronounced itself to be the world’s largest, though it produces a relatively small five megawatts on a 20-hectare site.
The sun, just 150 million kilometres away, is our best form of energy supplier, if only we could learn to harness its energy properly. Just a minute fraction of the sun’s energy that hits the Earth (around a hundredth of a millionth of a per cent) is enough to meet all our power needs many times over. In a sunny climate, you can get enough power to run a 100 Watt light bulb from just one square metre of solar panel.
Solar energy is free and has numerous advantages, needing no fuel and producing no waste or pollution. Although solar energy was originally conceived as a means of providing energy to satellites, these days, many of us own calculators powered by solar cells.
Solar power does have drawbacks. Traditionally, it’s been very expensive to build solar power stations and solar power costs a great deal compared to the amount of electricity it produces in a lifetime. But, in a country like Portugal, one can’t help but conclude that solar energy would be one of the best energy resources.
There will always be prophets of doom who warn of the dangers of solar energy. Will we be endangering ourselves by staring at an electric light powered by solar energy, which represents a concentration of energy from the sun? No doubt the same people who warned of the dangers of skin cancer from sunbathing will be warning about the dangers of electricity powered by solar energy. But one suspects that most people will conclude that it’s a risk worth taking… Gabriel Hershman