By Dave Scoullar
STILL dubious about the way the world is moving towards renewable energy? Maybe you are missing something, so ponder this: In May last year Portugal, a country with twice the population of New Zealand, kept its lights on with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days.
Portugal's electricity consumption was fully covered by solar, wind and hydro power in an extraordinary 107-hour run that lasted from 6.45am on a Saturday until 5.45pm the following Wednesday -- a clean energy milestone revealed by data analysis of national energy network figures.
News of the zero emissions landmark came just days after Germany announced clean energy had powered almost all its electricity needs on Sunday May 15, 2016, with power prices turning negative at several times in the day -- effectively paying consumers to use it.
Wind power generates 140 per cent of Denmark's electricity demand. Iceland provides 87 per cent of its demand for hot water and heat with geothermal energy, primarily through an extensive district heating system. Altogether, hydro and geothermal sources meet 81 per cent of Iceland's primary energy requirements for electricity, heat, and transportation.
Applauding the landmarks, Oliver Joy of the Wind Europe trade association said: "We are seeing trends like this spread across Europe."
James Watson, of SolarPower Europe agreed, saying: "What seems extraordinary today will be commonplace in Europe in just a few years."
In 2016, wind provided 22 per cent of electricity and all renewable sources together provided 48 per cent, according to the Portuguese renewable energy association.
While Portugal's clean energy surge has been spurred by the EU's renewable targets for 2020, support schemes for new wind capacity were reduced in 2012.
Despite this, Portugal added 550MW of wind capacity between 2013 and 2016, and industry groups have their sights firmly set on the green energy's export potential, within Europe and without.
"An increased build-out of inter-connectors, a reformed electricity market and political will are all essential," Joy said. "But with the right policies in place, wind could meet a quarter of Europe's power needs in the next 15 years."
In 2015, wind power alone met 42 per cent of electricity demand in Denmark, 20 per cent in Spain, 13 per cent in Germany and 11 per cent in the UK. And in a move hailed as a "historic turning point" by clean energy supporters, UK citizens in 2016 enjoyed their first ever week of coal-free electricity generation.
Watson said: "The age of inflexible and polluting technologies is drawing to an end and power will increasingly be provided from clean, renewable sources."
Meanwhile, a small French town has become a pioneer in renewable energy, opening the world's first solar panel-covered road, 1km long. The French government plans over 1000km of "solar roads" within the next five years despite concerns that solar panels on flat surfaces are less efficient than those on sloping areas.
How are we faring? New Zealand's Energy Strategy 2011-21 priority areas cite diverse resource development (including renewable energy). In 2015 we sourced 40 per cent of our total energy from renewable resources. Most of this was used to produce electricity. The rest was mainly wood fuel producing heat for industry and homes.
Encouragingly, renewables accounted for 88 per cent of electricity generated in the three months to last December -- the highest level of renewable electricity generation in 20 years.
Dave Scoullar is a tramper, conservationist and member of the Te Araroa Whanganui Trust.