Portugal’s international reputation usually orbits such things as wine, port, olives, fish, cork, and holidays. Being half Portuguese, to me it also means cold beer, Catholicism, gossipy old women in black, beautiful young women in bikinis, and the Azorean islands. In all, a fairly traditional picture. However, my work in renewable energy makes me proud of the moves the nation has made in the direction of a low carbon energy system.
The country is blessed by geography and climate, having a long, windy coastline, strong rivers and hot sun, giving it a huge natural endowment of wave, wind, tidal and solar power. They now have a target to produce 45 per cent of their electricity from alternative sources by 2015, and facilitate it with various incentives, including a guaranteed price for the energy fed into the grid (a feed-in tariff), investment subsidies and tax reductions. That it has no fossil fuels of its own, nor expertise with nuclear energy, is becoming the best thing that ever happened to the country.
The world’s biggest solar park is found in Amareleja, in the Alentejo region, which will be nearly double the size of Hyde Park and supply energy for 30,000 homes. The world’s largest wind farm is under construction in the hills near the Spanish border, and when currently planned wind farms are all completed, they will power around 750,000 homes. Wave power is expected to supply energy to around 450,000 homes when planned investments are deployed along the coast. New technology (made in Scotland) is currently being tested in the Porto area.
The clean energy transition in Portugal is expected to create around 10,000 jobs, jobs which should stay in the country. Germany, Spain and Denmark are all world leaders in renewable energy, but we can expect increasing competition in global markets from China, Japan, India and the United States. The election of Barack Obama came with the promise of five million new ‘green collar’ jobs in the coming years. When leaders lead by example, and profit, others follow.
The kind of revolution that we need, on a global scale, will be led by examples of what works. Portuguese focus and determination on renewable energy – and on energy efficiency – is just such an example. They pulled out the stops, and that is what it will take. The faster we make climate and environment protecting activities normal, everyday things, the sooner we will get the snowball effect – everyone is at it, because society has chosen that path. Think of the industrial revolution, or the telecommunications revolution. Societies around the world are able to use the latter to share ways of overcoming the multiple problems created by the former.
The year 2009 is likely to be another breakthrough year on all these fronts. There are now too many people around the world working on solving these problems for it to be otherwise. When the solutions create jobs and industry too, that speaks loudly to voters and politicians. Watch this space.