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The New York Times Bets on Portugal’s Hydro Future

The New York Times Bets on Portugal’s Hydro Future -
The New York Times Bets on Portugal’s Hydro Future - Portugal Business News

The New York Times bets on Portugal’s Hydro Future in an article that describes a dam in rural Portugal being the key to the world’s new alternative future.

The New York Times’ Quotation of the Day on January 13th mentions David Rivera Pantoja who describes Portugal’s giant hydro project: “This is my Pyramids.”

David Rivera Pantoja is a Project Manager who has spent the last 15 years working on a vast hydro-electric project that is reshaping a rugged river valley in Portugal.

In Ribeira de Pena in Portugal, when the electricity system needs a boost, a signal activates a power plant buried deep into a hillside in the country’s scrubby, pine-covered north. Inside the human-made cavern, valves suddenly open, allowing water draining from a reservoir 6.5 km away to begin streaming through four massive turbines. At full power, they generate enough electricity to rival a nuclear reactor.

According to The New York Times, this is the heart of a vast hydro-electric project that is reshaping a rugged river valley about 100 km east of Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city after Lisbon. Besides the underground power plant, Iberdrola, the Spanish energy giant, has built three dams in the area that sprawl over nearly 10 square kilometers.

But the EUR 1.5 billion complex of tunnels and water is not just massive, but also provides an answer to one of the most vexing questions the world is facing in terms of renewable energy today: “Hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent across the globe on solar energy and wind power. But when the sun goes down, or the breezes become still, where will the electricity come from?”

Iberdrola’s giant project, which uses water and gravity to generate power on demand, is part of the solution. Portugal’s Hydro Future is the key to a global renaissance in the energy sector.

What has changed in countries such as Portugal is the rapid growth of clean sources of energy such as wind and solar farms. While these technologies churn out electricity free of greenhouse gas emissions, they generate an energy stream that is less steady than a traditional power plant fueled by coal, natural gas, or a nuclear reactor. However, according to Fabian Ronningen, an analyst at Rystad Energy, “You can’t have just solar and wind, you need something to balance.”

Tapping a reservoir and using its water to spin underground turbines allows engineers to create renewable energy on demand. A facility such as Portugal’s Tâmega river power-plant stores energy in the form of water when the wind is blowing hard or on sunny days, but lets it flow when other forms of energy are more expensive.

Iberdrola executives say plans by governments in Europe and elsewhere to increase wind and solar energy mean more demand for facilities like the one on the Tâmega river. Pumped storage plants can also provide, in essence, energy insurance to install even more sources of clean energy to tackle climate change.

Iberdrola is also planning to install a large wind farm in the same region.

Because pumped storage plants are so useful for keeping a power grid humming, they are finding favor in many countries, including China, India and Australia. Several proposals are also being implemented in the US.

“This was quite an exceptional project,” said Martin Burdett, News Editor of the International Journal on Hydropower and Dams.

While construction continues at the facility, the underground power plant is already operating. The turbines are switched on and off from Madrid, where Iberdrola is based. As a system that can reuse water, it is proving more resilient in times of drought than conventional dams.

And so it came to be, that after 15 years, Rivera is nearing completion of his Portuguese Pyramids. In the future there may not be many more projects in Europe as huge as this one. Burdett, of the International Journal on Hydropower and Dams, stated that depleted mine shafts and excavations near the sea were now being considered as alternatives to damming up rivers.


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