Oceans of potential in a time of profound change: An interview with Portugal’s Minister of the Sea Ricardo Serrão Santos

Minister of the Sea Ricardo Serrão Santos is responsible for the coordination of maritime affairs in the Portuguese Government

 

“We have ambitious targets in our National Ocean Strategy to increase the blue economy’s contribution to 7% of GDP, and 5,2% of the total jobs, by 2030. I believe that the ocean renewable energy sector will play an important role in these strategic objectives.”

 

Please provide a short Introduction about your current role:

As Minister of the Sea, I am responsible for the coordination of maritime affairs in the Portuguese Government, which includes defining the National Ocean Strategy, managing Maritime Spatial Planning, and promoting scientific knowledge, innovation and technological development in all maritime sectors. The Ministry of the Sea is also responsible for fisheries, aquaculture and maritime resource management (including ocean renewable energies) the protection of the marine environment and the management of national and European funds related to fisheries and maritime affairs.

How important is Portugal’s maritime sector to the national economy?

At this moment, the maritime sectors of the economy in Portugal account for over 5% of our GDP, around 5% of our exports and 4% of employment. These are among the highest values within the EU Member States, but we have ambitious targets in our National Ocean Strategy to increase the blue economy’s contribution to 7% of GDP, and 5,2% of the total jobs, by 2030. I believe that the ocean renewable energy sector will play an important role in these strategic objectives.

 

“To be completely clear on the climate urgency – we have to move to zero per cent dependence on fossil fuels in the next decades. Zero! We are entering a time of profound change in our economies and our societies.”

 

How will Portugal’s maritime sector support the nation’s future energy transition and net-zero targets?

Today the world is still dependent on fossil fuels for more than 80% of its energy needs. This value must move towards 0% in the coming decades. I repeat it, to be completely clear on the climate urgency – we have to move to zero per cent dependence on fossil fuels in the next decades. Zero! We are entering a time of profound change in our economies and our societies. As a maritime nation whose history, economy and worldview were very much shaped by our relationship with the ocean, Portugal is especially aware of the vital importance of the ocean in this challenging transformation. So, it should not be a surprise to anyone that Portugal is increasingly focused on the ocean as a source of many forms of renewable energy and, simultaneously, the ocean is the world’s largest hydrogen reserve. Portugal already has installed capacity of over 25 megawatts, and by 2030 should have 370 megawatts of oceanic renewable energies according to our National Ocean Strategy 2021-2030 (mainly, but not only, floating offshore wind). We have a target of more than 1.3 gigawatts of oceanic renewable energy, by 2050, in our Roadmap for Carbon Neutrality, as part of Portugal’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 85%, compared to 2005. I am very confident that we will exceed, and anticipate, these targets comfortably, since I am aware of a very promising pipeline of new private investments being programmed in commercial scale projects in Portugal.

 

“We have a target of more than 1.3 gigawatts of oceanic renewable energy, by 2050, in our Roadmap for Carbon Neutrality, as part of Portugal’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 85%, compared to 2005.”

 

What will Portugal’s future energy mix comprise of, and which new and emerging green energy solutions would you highlight as most promising?

I believe that floating offshore wind energy will be, in the coming decade, the main game changer in terms of installed capacity and economic impact in many maritime and industrial sectors in Portugal. This increased capacity coupled with green/blue hydrogen production will have a significant impact in the decarbonization of our economy. The Portuguese National Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 has a target of 47% of renewables in the gross final energy consumption, by 2030. Considering the forecast evolution of the electricity generation sector in Portugal, renewables are expected to contribute at least 80% of the electricity generation by 2030, with emphasis on hydroelectrical power, accounting for around 22%, wind energy, accounting for around 31%, and ocean and solar energy, accounting for around 27% (including, as I said before, 370 MW of ocean energies).

What are the barriers for these new innovations and what can society and governments do to bring them to fruition?

I would say that for many new technologies the main difficulties are financing and the regulatory framework. In Portugal we have been trying to put in place a favorable set of regulations, studying new sites for ocean energy production in our maritime spatial planning, and designing new financial instruments to attract new projects. Grid constraints can also be a barrier, and that is why we have been upgrading our infrastructure over the years. On the financing side, we are also aiming at the process of knowledge transference between the academia and the business world. As part of our National Recovery and Resilience Plan, we are planning several large-scale investments in what we call the “Blue Hub”. This is a network of science and business parks with innovation incubators, seven of which will be in the Portuguese mainland, and the 8th in Azores (Faial island). Most of these centers will be built from scratch, creating shared labs, offices, spaces for coworking, where we can bring together scientists, start-ups, small and large companies, in a network of facilities that will have direct access to the sea to test prototypes and do all kinds of research. This “Blue Hub” will be fully operational by 2025, and the ocean renewables sector is one of its focus areas.

 

“As part of our National Recovery and Resilience Plan, we are planning several large-scale investments in what we call the ‘Blue Hub’ and the ocean renewables sector is one of its focus areas.”

 

What value do you see in wave energy in particular?

I think that wave energy systems have great potential in Portugal, and a special strategic interest within the scope of the diversification of renewable energy sources. It is a more predictable source than wind or solar energy, we have the original resource – waves – in abundant quantities, our electrical grid will be able to absorb the energy produced, and we have large cities and industries near the shore that require this energy. We have been pioneers in wave energy exploration since 1977, with many R&D projects, and in the 1990’s with the Wave Power Plant in Pico island, in the Azores. Over several decades, Portugal has been the testing ground of many new offshore and onshore wave energy technologies, and I expect this to be the case in the coming decades.

 

“Wave energy systems have great potential in Portugal, and a special strategic interest within the scope of the diversification of renewable energy sources. It is a more predictable source than wind or solar energy, we have the original resource – waves – in abundant quantities, our electrical grid will be able to absorb the energy produced, and we have large cities and industries near the shore that require this energy.”

 

Who would you want us to interview next and why?

I would recommend speaking with scientists, like Prof. António Sarmento, from the University of Lisbon and WavEC Offshore Renewables, who have been in forefront of international partnerships and technology developments in wave energy. He should be able to describe what the technological landscape will look like in the coming years and discuss some of the promising projects that are being developed in Portugal and across Europe right now.

What question would you like to ask him/ her?

What else can the Portuguese Government do to make Portugal an appealing destination for new wave energy technologies.

 

Minister Serrão Santos’ three key tenets to improve the ocean energy environment

 1) Better planning – Governments have work to do in maritime spatial planning, which must consider a careful selection of connection points to the grid, and the upgrading of the grid capacity to receive energy from these new sources.

2) Technological development – This is still needed to obtain more reliable and economically viable systems, not only in energy production, but also in energy storage technologies, like hydrogen production from renewable sources.

3) Better acceptance by coastal communities and integration with other local economic activities – I would say that acceptance by coastal communities will be increasingly important as we spread commercial scale installations throughout our maritime territory. We must try to ensure the integration of local and regional players in the supply chains of equipment production, and in the maritime services related to the offshore activities. Also, we must strive to develop multiple uses for these offshore platforms, beyond energy production (e.g. aquaculture, tourism, vigilance, sensors), to maximize wealth and job creation at local level.

 

Name: Ricardo da Piedade Abreu Serrão Santos

Job Title: Minister of the Sea

Lives: Horta, Faial, Azores

Career in summary: Ricardo Serrão Santos was born in 1954. He lives in the Portuguese Autonomous Region of Azores. Doctor in Biology and Animal Ecology, he is a Principal Researcher at the University of the Azores. Ricardo Serrão Santos has dedicated his career to the study of marine biodiversity and ecosystems and has more than 400 hundred published scientific appears and books. He is co-editor and author of “Seamounts: Ecology, Fisheries and Conservation”, published in 2007, by Wiley InterScience, co-editor of “Anthropogenic Disturbances in the Deep Sea”, published in 2020, by Frontiers, and co-author of a Virtual Centre of Marine Interpretation (CIMV). During his academic career, he coordinated and chaired several scientific organizations of the EU, Portugal and the Azores. He holds positions in several scientific advisory bodies and committees among which the Oceanographic Institute of Paris.  Ricardo Serrão Santos is an elected member of the Portuguese Academy of Sciences and Emeritus Member of the Portuguese Navy Academy.  He has received several honorable mentions and awards, among which are «Gift to the Earth» by WWF, in 2002, the “Insígnia Autonómica de Reconhecimento”, awarded by the Legislative Parliament of the Azores and the Azores Government, in 2012, commended “Chevalier de l’Ordre de Saint Charles”, by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, in 2013, and was awarded the Prize “Excellence Mare”, by PwC Portugal, in 2017. He was Member of the European Parliament between 2014 and 2019.

 

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