Portugal Points The Way For Renewable Energy Adoption

by | Aug 26, 2008

As the world reels at the high price of fossil fuels, business and governments are increasingly casting about for renewable energy models.  Portugal is happy to oblige.

Portugal?  Yes Portugal.  While most of the world remained mired in the old mindset of the fossil fuel driven economy, Portugal committed to leading Europe’s clean-tech revolution with some of the most ambitious targets and timetables for renewable energy adoption.  That decision proved visionary.  Portugal’s commitment to renewable energy provides an economic cushion at a time when other countries are feeling the pain of high oil prices.

“We have to reduce our dependence on oil and gas,” said Manuel Pinho, Portugal’s Economic Minister. “What seemed extravagant in 2004 when we decided to go for renewables now seems to have been a very good decision.”

Portugal expects to generate 31% of all its energy from clean sources by 2020. This represents increasing its renewable electricity share from 20% in 2005 to 60% in 2020, compared with Britain’s target of 15% of all energy by 2020. Portugal already exceeds its 2010 renewable energy targets.

While these commitments are exceptional, the most exciting part of Portugal’s drive to be a clean-tech leader comes from its rapid adoption of new renewable technologies.  Traditionally, the country derived about 30-40% of its electricity from hydropower.  While hydro is not a carbon-intensive energy source, it is not exactly cutting edge technology either.  But now Portugal’s renewable energy plans include the world’s largest wind, wave and solar energy facilities, demonstrating that these technologies can be deployed at a massive scale.

Portugal’s plans capitalize on plentiful natural resources:  the sunniest spot in Europe, a long coastline and abundant wind.  The country intends to take advantage of what nature has given it, and are using its resources to establish Portugal as a global clean-tech leader.

Take wave energy.  While experts identified the potential for generating electricity from wave power years ago, the technology to do so remained in its infancy.  Portugal is now making a major play to both develop the technology and position itself as the world leader in its application.   The world’s first commercial wave farm is set to go online this year.  While this facility will provide only a modest amount of electricity to the grid, Portugal has set an ambitious generation target of 550MW by 2020.  Backed by significant government incentives, the wave energy sector in Portugal is poised to take off.

The solar sector also benefits from similar support.  By the end of this year, the world’s largest photovoltaic solar power farm will be in eastern Portugal.  The facility, capable of generating enough power for 30,000 homes, represents a play by the country to become a global leader in solar technology.

The high price of fossil fuel energy presents global economic challenges.  Although we’ve recently been given a slight reprieve from the record-high cost of oil, the higher prices have rippled through the global economy, driving up the costs of goods and services.  But there is a silver lining: the high price of fossil fuels makes renewable energy look more and more attractive.  If countries want to learn how to develop renewable energy on a large scale, Portugal points the way.

Diana Verde Nieto is Founder and CEO of Clownfish www.clownfish.co.uk a communications and brand agency dedicated to making sustainability tangible for business.

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