Despite a slow start to the year, BloombergNEF expects Portugal to install another 1,363 MW of solar power by the end of 2023. The likelihood of this scenario appears to come down to how quickly the record 2019-2020 solar auction projects come online. if they do at all.
The latest statistics from Portugal’s General Directorate of Energy and Geology (DGEG) show that the country added just 118 MW of new solar capacity in the first four months of 2023.
Despite a slow start to the year, new solar installations in Portugal may have gained momentum in May and June, reflecting the development of the previous year. In January-April 2022, Portugal increased power by only 111 MW, but in May it increased by 262 MW, bringing the total power to 373 MW. In June, 173 MW of additional power was installed, making the total power 546 MW. In the second half of the year, however, growth was slower, with only 344 MW of new additions.
BloombergNEF predicts that Portugal’s solar capacity will reach 1,363MW by the end of 2023, a significant increase from last year’s 890MW and the current 118MW. The research provider estimates that Portugal will add 1,632 MW in 2024, 1,749 MW in 2025 and 1,741 MW in 2026. From 2030 onwards, BNEF projects relatively stable annual installations of around 1,745 MW.
On the other hand, the slow progress of record solar auction projects is likely to be the main culprit behind Portugal’s delayed new capacity additions. From the 2019 auction, only seven of the 25 solar power plants are in operation. The 2020 auction project has not been put into operation so far. 1,150 MW of network capacity was allocated in the 2019 auction and 670 MW in the 2020 auction, a total of 1,820 MW in both auctions.
In the 2019 auction, French developer Akuo won the project with a solar energy tariff of 0.0147 euros ($0.014)/kWh. This was a new world record at the time. In 2020, the record was broken again with a winning bid of $0.0132/kWh.
In October 2022, the Portuguese government offered an increase in premiums to winners of auctions that had proven unbankable amid rising inflation and equipment prices. The new law also extended by 12 months the period during which selected projects can sell electricity at the spot market price instead of the granted tariff.
It seems that these measures were not enough to convince the auction winners to bring their projects online. According to data analyzed by the Economic Journal of the Portuguese Ministry of Environment and Climate, only 5% of the nominal power awarded in the 2019 and 2020 auctions was online by mid-March. O Jornal Económico. Of these 92 MW fed into the grid, Prodigy Orbit, owned by the Spanish Solaria, developed four projects with a capacity of 49 MW. Iberdrola has two solar power plants with a capacity of 20 MW and 10 MW. Finally, Made Better, a subsidiary of Portugal’s Grupo Lusiaves, has a 13 MW grid-connected facility.
The new deadlines for commissioning projects in the 2019 auction are April 2024 and April 2025, depending on whether the projects require environmental approval. Solar energy projects with an area of less than 100 hectares are exempt from environmental approval, with the exception of projects in protected areas. The deadlines for the 2020 auction projects are June 2025 and 2026.
The largest solar power plants in the 2019 auction belong to the French company Akuo with lots of 150 MW, 120 MW and 100 MW. There are also three projects over 100 MW. In the 2020 auction, the largest plant went to Qcells with 109 MW. Spain’s Endesa and Iberdrola have 99 MW and 69 MW projects.
If, according to BNEF’s forecast, the country intends to install 1,363 MW by the end of the year, a significant part of the record auction projects will quickly go online.
The picture may look brighter in the coming years as major PPA and merchant projects come online from 2024 onwards. For example, Iberdrola and Prosalia have already ensured Environmental permit from the Portuguese authorities to build a 1.2 GW solar power plant in the municipality of Santiago de Cacém. It is expected to start commercial operations in 2025 and will become the largest solar power project in Europe.