INESC TEC participates in the 8th Energy Forum on the sector’s challenges

The 8th Energy Forum on the sector’s challenges took place on September 29 and 30; and, for the first time, the event was held online, under the motto “The challenges of the Energy sector – Who will lead the change: the state or the private entities?”. Two experts from INESC TEC were part of the panel of speakers.

In 2016, the current Minister for the Environment and Climate Action, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, established the decarbonisation of the Portuguese economy as a key objective – with a focus on independence from fossil fuels by 2050, following the guidelines set by the European Commission.

In this sense, one of the debate panels focused on the Zero Coal Strategy. Luís Seca, member of the Executive Board of INESC TEC, moderated this debate, with Francisco Ferreira, professor at FCT-UNL and president of the environmental association Zero, João Faria Conceição, COO of REN, João Marques da Cruz, administrator at EDP and Nuno Ribeiro da Silva, president of Endesa Portugal. Some of the issues discussed were the way the entities will carry out the alternative energy supply – taking into account the end of coal plants -, the challenges in the configuration of the electricity grids and the resolution of labour and social questions that may arise due to this strategy.

This debate addressed the technical, economic and social impacts of the decommissioning of the two coal-fired power plants in Sines and Pêgo. It was clear that the Portuguese electricity system has the capacity to operate without these plants, which has been happening over large periods in recent months. However, some changes in the network infrastructure are necessary, namely to support an equivalent power in conversion sources of renewable energy i.e., solar photovoltaic (centralised and distributed). The participants also discussed the possibility of operating those plants as a way to support the stability of the network, or even as a way to promote the adoption of other energy vectors, such as hydrogen. Moreover, the members of the debate panel pointed out the need to adopt training actions for the approximately 800 operators of those plants, so they can keep their jobs. The debate was very productive, showing that a simple policy change – in this case, the end of the exemption from the tax on petroleum products for fuels used to produce electricity – led to a loss of competitiveness of these power plants that forced its closure in a near future, removing from the electrical power systems the two plants with the greater amount of carbon emissions in Portugal.

João Peças Lopes, Associate Director of INESC TEC, presented the state-of-the-art technical studies on Low Voltage Concessions. The panel on this topic aimed to present the steps required in the current legislature – which, due to the new tenders for the concession of energy distribution for low voltage, should present significant developments.

“Low voltage electricity grids will pose great challenges over the next 20 years, due to the energy transition that is taking place; this process should be even more intense in the upcoming years, caused by the increase in electricity consumption, particularly in terms of air conditioning, domestic water heating or charging of electric vehicles’ batteries, but also because of an increasing use of distribution production (particularly solar photovoltaic), which will start to appear more and more on the rooftops of buildings and houses. These changes present significant technical challenges that we must address within the scope of the concessions of low voltage grids in Portugal. We must deal with them efficiently, without compromising the energy transition”, explained João Peças Lopes.

The 8th Energy Forum was organised by the magazine Água & Ambiente.

The INESC TEC researchers mentioned in this news piece are associated with INESC TEC and UP-FEUP.

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