alqueva EUSEW

Floating solar park in Alqueva is a finalist in the 2023 European Sustainable Energy Awards

Thursday 11, May 2023

EDP's hybrid energy project bringing together solar, hydropower, and battery storage uses innovative scalable technology to reduce emissions and protect nature simultaneously. The project is one of three finalists shortlisted for the European Sustainable Energy Awards 2023 in the Innovation category.

The floating solar park of EDP in Alqueva is one of the three finalists shortlisted for the European Sustainable Energy Awards 2023 in the Innovation category. The award recognises outstanding ongoing or recently completed EU-funded projects that show an original and innovative path towards the clean energy transition. The project is to be voted on until 11 June on this webpage.

‘We need all the renewable technologies to come together and deliver the energy transition in Europe,’ explains Joana Freitas, Board Member of EDP Generation.

The principle of combining different forms of renewable energy in one project underpins this 5MW Alqueva floating solar farm, where 12 000 solar panels float on 4 hectares of an existing hydropower reservoir in central Portugal. The park, whose elastic mooring system  was developed as part of the EU-funded Fresher project, supplies enough energy to power 30% of the energy usage of households in the region.

‘We are seeing here a mix of several layers of innovation,’ says Miguel Patena, Innovation Manager at EDP, who describes how ‘the cooling effect of the water increases the efficiency of the solar panels.’ In addition, the panels protect the water from solar radiation, reducing algae formation, giving fish a place to shelter from the heat, and limiting water evaporation, all of which are key in the region where the effects of climate change are already being felt and ‘water management is a very central part of life’.

The solar park uses the same connection point to the grid as an existing hydropower plant which was built 20 years ago and employs battery storage to boost the resilience of the energy supply. This hybrid approach increases the efficiency of projects by allowing them to share infrastructure such as power lines and substations, as well as stabilizing costs and reducing environmental impact. ‘Together, these different technologies complement each other to deliver clean, reliable, and affordable energy,’ Joana notes.

Preserving the ecosystem while delivering on the social aspects of sustainability is at the heart of the solar project. As Joana states, ‘on one hand we are adding renewable capacity, on the other hand, we believe that this is a highly positive project in terms of nature.’ Installing the solar park on the reservoir, where it covers a small fraction of the water’s surface, avoids using land that could otherwise be used for other purposes, such as agriculture, livestock, and tourism. There is also a minimal visual impact: ‘you don’t see the platform until you are very close to it.’

The project served to drive innovation and R&D in local industry, thanks to a partnership with Amorim Cork Composites, a Portuguese company that has been operating in the area for 150 years. Along with the Spanish manufacturer Isigenere, they developed a unique mix of cork composites and recycled plastic, that it is the basis of these sustainable floaters.

Using this novel material reduced the weight of the platform by 15% and helped cut the carbon footprint of the production of the floaters by 30%. It is an example of how local resources and know-how can be combined with new technology to produce powerful results. Joana explains that ‘cork is a native species of this region, it’s an ancestral product, and it’s now being used to power the energy transition in this innovative project.’The project team applied learnings gained from a smaller hybrid park in the north of the country (Alto Rabagão) which was developed in 2016.

By scaling up the solutions there, it demonstrates the wider potential to replicate its positive outcomes more widely. An additional 70MW are planned on the Alqueva’s reservoir following Portugal’s first floating solar auction, and awareness is already being built around Europe of the potential for this kind of technology thanks to the park.

EUSEW Awards

Alqueva Floating Solar Farmis a success story for EU funding towards innovative projects tackling climate change. This initiative directly supports the European Green Deal and REPowerEU Plan.

The other finalists in this category are: TrAM (Transport: Advanced and Modular) in Norway and the pan-European STEP (Solutions to Tackle Energy Poverty) project. TrAM is the origin of the world's first fully electric fast ferry with zero emissions. STEP is using social innovation to tackle energy poverty in nine EU countries.

The European Sustainable Energy Awards (EUSEW Awards) honor outstanding individuals and projects for their innovation and efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energy. The awards are given in three categories: Innovation, Local Energy Actions, and Women in Energy. The winners are announced during the EUSEW Awards ceremony in June 2023 in the presence of the European Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, and a high-level jury.

European Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW), the biggest annual event dedicated to renewable energy and energy efficiency in Europe, takes place from 20-22 June under the theme "Accelerating the transition to clean energy - towards lower bills and more skills". The event will bring together thousands of sustainability stakeholders to explore policy issues related to protecting European consumers from price volatility and improving their skills to produce and save energy in the current energy context.  

Registration for participation in Brussels and online participation is now open.