President Obama has promised to set America on a path to get 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. Big deal. Vast superpower Portugal (remember Prince Henry? Vasco da Gama?) is already there and gone. Five years ago, Portugal got 17% of its power from renewables. They are now up to 45% green power. Almost half of their power from those wimpy wind turbines and solar panels and funky tidal generators.
Land-based wind power — this year deemed “potentially competitive” with fossil fuels by the International Energy Agency in Paris — has expanded sevenfold in that time. And Portugal expects in 2011 to become the first country to inaugurate a national network of charging stations for electric cars.
“I’ve seen all the smiles — you know: It’s a good dream. It can’t compete. It’s too expensive,” said Prime Minister José Sócrates, recalling the way Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, mockingly offered to build him an electric Ferrari. Mr. Sócrates added, “The experience of Portugal shows that it is possible to make these changes in a very short time" [Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Portugal Gives Itself a Clean-Energy Makeover," New York Times, 2010.08.09].
Who's laughing now, Silvio?
Now sure, electric rates are higher in Portugal. Folks there grumble that their electric bills have gone up 15% in the last five years. Folks here in fossil-fuel-addicted America can sympathize: Black Hills Power customers are seeing their rates jump 19%... in one year.
What's our problem?
If the United States is to catch up to countries like Portugal, energy experts say, it must overcome obstacles like a fragmented, outdated energy grid poorly suited to renewable energy; a historic reliance on plentiful and cheap supplies of fossil fuels, especially coal; powerful oil and coal industries that often oppose incentives for renewable development; and energy policy that is heavily influenced by individual states [Rosenthal, 2010.08.09].
Renewable is doable, not in some misty future, but right here, right now... if your country has the guts, like Portugal.