• Portugal is preparing to start up Europe's largest floating solar park, with over 12,000 solar panels.
  • Long hours of sunshine and fast Atlantic winds have helped Portugal accelerate its shift to renewables.
  • Floating panels don’t require costly real estate and those on reservoirs used for hydropower are particularly cost effective as they can hook up to existing links to the power grid.
  • They have been installed in places from California to polluted industrial ponds in China, in the fight to cut CO2 emissions.

Two tugboats have moved a vast array of 12,000 solar panels, the size of four soccer pitches, to their mooring on Portugal's Alqueva reservoir in preparation to start up Europe's largest floating solar park in July.

EDP's floating solar farm in Portugal: the largest in Europe

Built by the country's main utility EDP on Western Europe's biggest artificial lake, the shiny floating island is part of Portugal's plan to cut reliance on imported fossil fuels whose prices have surged since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Blessed by long hours of sunshine and Atlantic winds, Portugal has accelerated its shift to renewables. But even though Portugal uses almost no Russian hydrocarbons, its gas-fired power plants still feel the squeeze of rising fuel prices.

Miguel Patena, EDP group director in charge of the solar project, said when the tugboats moved the panels into position that electricity produced from the floating park, with installed capacity of 5 megawatts (MW), would cost a third of that produced from a gas-fired plant.

The panels on the Alqueva reservoir, which is used to generate hydropower, would produce 7.5 gigawatt/hours (GWh) of electricity a year, and would be complemented by lithium batteries to store 2 GWh.

The solar panels will supply 1,500 families with power or a third of the needs of the nearby towns of Moura and Portel.

Aerial view of floating solar farms
Aerial view of EDP's (Energias de Portugal) largest floating solar farm on a dam in Europe, on the surface of Alqueva dam, in Moura, Portugal.
Image: REUTERS/Miguel Pereira
Workers talk during the installation of EDP's (Energias de Portugal) largest floating solar farm on a dam in Europe, on the surface of Alqueva dam, in Moura, Portugal.
Workers talk during the installation of EDP's (Energias de Portugal) largest floating solar farm on a dam in Europe, on the surface of Alqueva dam, in Moura, Portugal.
Image: REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Aerial view of EDPs' floating solar farms
EDP's (Energias de Portugal) is the biggest floating solar farm in a hydro dam in Europe, and a very good benchmark.
Image: REUTERS/Miguel Pereira
Worker on floating solar farm.
A worker is seen during the installation of EDP's (Energias de Portugal) largest floating solar farm on a dam in Europe, on the surface of Alqueva dam, in Moura, Portugal.
Image: REUTERS/Pedro Nunes
Floating solar farms
A worker walks during the installation of EDP's (Energias de Portugal) largest floating solar farm on a dam in Europe, on the surface of Alqueva dam, in Moura, Portugal.
Image: REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

"This project is the biggest floating solar park in a hydro dam in Europe, it is a very good benchmark," Patena said.

Solar panels mounted on pontoons on lakes or at sea have been installed in range of places from California to polluted industrial ponds in China, in the fight to cut CO2 emissions.

Floating panels do not require valuable real estate and those on reservoirs used for hydropower are particularly cost effective as they can hook up to existing links to the power grid. Excess power generated on sunny days can pump water up into the lake to be stored for use on cloudy days or at night.

EDP executive board member Ana Paula Marques said the war in Ukraine showed the need to accelerate the shift to renewables

She said the Alqueva project was part of EDP's strategy "to go 100% green by 2030", with hydropower and other renewables now accounting for 78% of EDP's 25.6 GW of installed capacity.

In 2017, EDP installed a pilot floating solar project with 840 panels on the Alto Rabagao dam, the first in Europe to test how hydro and solar power could complement each other.

EDP already has plans to expand the Alqueva project. It secured the right in April to build a second floating farm with 70 MW installed capacity.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.