Climate change and the energy transition

The consequences of climate change are well-known – and are starting to become a startling reality. The rise in carbon dioxide emissions has been causing an increase in the Earth’s average temperature in recent years – namely since the pre-industrial era -, with clear consequences in the melting of ice caps and glaciers around the world, causing the sea level rise, an increased desertification, and extreme weather events associated with major storms and heat waves. This entire situation determines an urgency to decarbonise the world economy and society. Hence, it is necessary to advance the increasing electrification of economic activities, complementing it with an increasing use of renewable energy resources to produce electricity. In other words, this solution only makes sense if the electricity used is “green” – produced using renewable primary sources. This energy transition will have a major impact on various sectors, such as mobility and transportation in general, industrial activities, the primary sectors of the economy and buildings, involving not only the use of “green” energy sources, but also the increased energy efficiency in all energy conversion and use processes.

In this sense, and to face these threats, we have witnessed an increase in the installation of wind and solar photovoltaic plants in recent years, complementing the already existing hydroelectric plants, and designed to replace thermoelectric plants that will be gradually decommissioned. The fuel power plants – a technology that is only used in the electrical systems of Madeira and the Azores – and the coal-fired power plants are the first being decommissioned. Portugal is a good example of this movement: this year, the country closed the coal plants in Sines and Pêgo, with a total of 1,884 MW of installed power. This is a path on which there can be no hesitation, and one that is being followed across much of Europe, in order to reach a carbon neutral electricity system in most European countries before 2050. In the upcoming years, we will witness an increase in wind energy production through the re-powering of existing on-shore wind farms, a significant increase in off-shore wind energy production, and a boost in photovoltaic solar production through the installation of panels on the roofs of large buildings and facilities. Unfortunately, this path of fast replacement of thermal power plants that burn fossil fuels is not being pursued as quickly in other regions, such as China and India, which implies the need to strengthen the mechanisms of international trade in carbon licenses, to ensure the competitiveness of the European economy.

However, we will not be able to achieve the fast decarbonisation of society and the economy without resorting to another energy vector – Hydrogen. In effect, the need for industrial heat production, the provision of an efficient and viable solution for the decarbonisation of long-distance road transportation, maritime transportation, and air transportation – plus the interest in having alternative solutions for seasonal storage of electricity from renewable sources to ensure security of supply in the electricity sector -, justify the commitment to Hydrogen from renewable sources (Green Hydrogen) as a complementary energy vector to electricity. Green Hydrogen will be produced through the electrolysis of water, using electricity from renewable energy sources – mainly wind and solar energy.

The energy transition will not, however, be effortless; it will lead to certain considerable environmental effects, which imply organising the territory to accommodate the increasing electricity production from renewable sources. In order to succeed, this energy transition requires a growing digitalisation and intensive use of ICTs in the energy sector, which represents a unique opportunity for the European and Portuguese economy. In fact, the development of advanced solutions for the management and control of the multi-energy systems involved in all these changes – in which the consumer plays a key role – will favour economic gains that will greatly contribute to increase wealth and qualified employment in Europe, and consequently, in Portugal. An opportunity we cannot afford to miss!

João Peças Lopes, Associate Director

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